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Aging in place with dementia support services

Alan Bachrach lived with his wife Deb in Petersham, in a home filled with their love of animals and each other. “Alan was a veterinary ophthalmologist,” says Deb, “and, like most veterinarians, that was his life.”

Alan DebAlan and Deb Petersham are shown here enjoying the company of their dogs, Bela and Zoe, in 2017. Alan is listening to music on his iPod, provided through a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Music Project. Alan, who had dementia with Lewy bodies, found the music to be soothing and often sang along.Their restored 260-year-old home features outbuildings for the veterinary practice and their many animals, including dogs, cats, llamas, goats, and sheep. “A lot of our hobbies were based around animals,” says Deb.

While he was still practicing, Alan began to show signs of dementia. “The first sign that I noticed was that he was having trouble following a complex story,” says Deb, “and then I noticed when I would go over patient history in the office, he wasn't always paying attention. He wasn't able to follow. And then the next thing I noticed, he was having a really difficult time keeping up with notes.”

After initially working with Alan’s primary care physician, for a couple of years Alan was treated for depression, but eventually further evaluation led to a diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies. “He's a really, really bright, very well-educated person,” says Deb, “and I think that probably masked things for a long time.”

Deb sought help to be able to care for Alan, who needed 24/7 assistance, at home. In addition to support from the Visiting Nurse Association, Deb found her way to LifePath. “When I knew the organization as Franklin County Home Care,” says Deb, “I thought it was Meals on Wheels. As I looked further into LifePath, I realized just the array of services that were available.”

A case manager from LifePath met with the couple and offered assistance through dementia coaching and additional support services and resources for both Alan and Deb as his caregiver.

Deb had spent time caring for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, but “caring for my mother is quite different than caring for a spouse,” says Deb. Dementia Coach Linda Puzan helped Deb to learn more about caring for someone with dementia with Lewy bodies in particular. “This is such a different disease that the tricks that we knew were helpful with my mom were not helpful with Alan.”

Linda helped Deb to think about ways to increase Alan’s safety, such as making the home safer with some dementia equipment such as door chimes, door locks, and stop signs for when he was walking around the house. “We did have a little bit of trouble with wandering,” says Deb. Ideas like these helped Deb to feel “more at ease” and less anxious while she went about her day.

Also helpful to Deb’s wellbeing as a caregiver was the Dementia Caregivers Support Group, available remotely and in-person through LifePath. “I think the nicest thing about support groups is you can share whatever you want to share,” says Deb. “And these are people that are having the same experiences. It's really tough for me to explain to our friends and some of our relatives because they're not in it. To be able to talk with someone who's in it, we can trade stories and things that work and things that don't work.”

Linda also recommended a way to help stimulate Alan’s mind and improve his mood.

At that time, Alan was speaking only in very short sentences and was having difficulty staying engaged at home. “Alan has always been known as the class clown,” says Deb, sharing photos of Alan dressed up in fun and creative costumes. “He used to read nonstop when he wasn't at work. He stopped reading, stopped listening to music. That was I think because he couldn't figure out how to turn the CD player on.”

Linda connected Deb and Alan to Peter Acker from the Alzheimer’s Music Project, which provides iPods loaded with customized playlists to people living with dementia. “I gave her genre-specific artists that I knew Alan would like to listen to. She then sent that list along to the folks at the Alzheimer's Music Project,” says Deb. “The night this thing arrived, at first, Alan was really apprehensive because anything electronic had really been throwing him lately. And he's never been a tech whiz at all; like, the simplest of simple is good for him. So he was really nervous about it.”

Peter went over instructions for how to operate the little iPod. “He put the earphones on, and Alan went from saying nothing to within a couple minutes singing along,” says Deb. “There's Alan with the headset on singing and smiling, just a completely different person.” Alan went from occasionally speaking in short sentences and mostly sleeping to listening and singing along to his favorite songs for hours on end.

After gaining a better understanding of dementia with Lewy bodies and feeling more supported in her role as a caregiver, Deb says she felt like things settled into a more supportive routine for herself, which in turn benefited Alan. “He had a remarkable little rally this summer,” says Deb, “and I am thankful for every second of it.” The home felt more relaxed again, and Alan started sleeping better. In May and June of this past summer, he began to have better days, common with dementia with Lewy bodies, with its symptoms that Deb says “wax and wane.” Alan and Deb were even able to go out to dinner.

Until the end, all of these services helped to keep Alan at home, where he wanted to be.

Alan Bachrach passed away at the end of the summer. He is missed by his family and many friends, animal and human alike.

To learn more about these and other services to support people living with dementia and their caregivers, contact us.

If you have chronic pain, you can still live your life to the fullest. Here are two local resources that can help.

Chronic Pain Self-Management

“Chronic Pain Self-Management” (CPSM), offered by the Healthy Living program at LifePath, is an evidence-based program that has been researched and proven to have positive results for participants.

Healthy Living workshops are free to participants. CPSM helps people build self-confidence to assume an active role in managing their chronic pain by exploring:

  • The root cause of pain
  • The mind/body connection, including distraction and relaxation techniques
  • Techniques for dealing with difficult emotions, stress, fatigue, isolation, and poor sleep
  • Appropriate exercise
  • Strategies on healthy eating, weight management, and nutrition
  • Pacing activity and rest
  • Appropriate use of medications and evaluating new treatments
  • Effective communication with family, friends and health professionals

Workshops are highly interactive, provide mutual support and build participants’ confidence to manage their pain and remain active. Caregivers and family members are also welcome in the program.

The CPSM workshop series meets once a week for six weeks. For more information and a calendar or upcoming sessions, visit LifePathMA.org/events/healthy-living-workshops or contact Healthy Living Program Manager Andi Waisman This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 413-773-5555 x2297 or 978-544-2259 x2297.

Pain Pals of Franklin County

“Pain Pals of Franklin County” is a free chronic pain support group that meets weekly in the community from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Valley Medical Group. The group is led by Terry Desautels, a former medical social worker who is also experiencing chronic pain after a severe trauma, a near fatal accident.

Pre-registration is required. If you’re interested in attending, call Terry at 413-659-3143 for an interview or more information.

The Pain Pals support group offers people who are experiencing chronic pain the chance to meet with others who live with chronic pain, in a safe and supportive environment. Discussion topics are relevant to life with pain.

Older Americans are the fastest growing segment of compulsive gamblers

The long-awaited MGM Springfield opened in August and has become a new destination for area adult communities, assisted living centers and even churches who organize outings to nearby casinos. For most, it is a day of fun and socialization. For some elders who need to limit activities due to health conditions, it is an exhilarating and accessible activity to enjoy. However, for about eight percent, compulsive gambling is an addiction that can cost elders their retirement nest egg, and it is anticipated with the opening of the MGM, our communities will see a spike in numbers.

CasinoWhile gambling is fun for some, for others it is an addiction that can have a negative life-altering impact. Photo by Benoit Dare on Unsplash."About 40 percent of the people we see are over 50," says psychologist Robert Hunter, who directs the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas. The number of casinos has exploded over the past few decades, and today casinos operate in more than 30 states. Add state lotteries, Powerball and now Internet gambling sites, and there are plenty of ways to try your luck and lose a little cash.

The nation's $40 billion a year gambling industry aggressively targets older customers, as they have accumulated wealth and are especially vulnerable, experts say, to wagering more than they can afford.

Rachel Volberg, a UMass researcher who studies gambling trends in the state, found a quarter of those she polled who have gambling problems said they’d like to get help. However, most do not seek out support. "Internationally, we know that problem gambling is associated with a great deal of stigma and shame,” says Volberg, “and people much, much prefer to try and manage it by themselves.”

In 2013, for the first time, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized compulsive gambling as an addiction (rather than a personality disorder), acknowledging that it shares many features with alcoholism and drug addiction. However, “we consider it the hidden, or invisible, addiction,” said Marlene Warner, who runs the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. “You don't come home with track marks in your arms. You might come home a little bloodshot, because you've been at the casino several days, but it's just not revealing itself in the same way that another addiction would.”

Compulsive gambling is linked to a range of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, migraine, depression, insomnia and other stress-related disorders. "The worse the gambling disorder, the worse the chronic health conditions we typically see," says University of Iowa Psychiatry Professor Donald M. Black, M.D., one of the country's leading experts on compulsive gambling.

Older people with dementia are at especially high risk because they are unable to recognize limitations or use appropriate judgments. Psychologists also suspect that people are more likely to run into problems if they turn to gambling for the wrong reasons – to escape loneliness, depression or even chronic pain.

Warning signs of gambling addiction include:

  • social withdrawal
  • borrowing from friends and family
  • gambling with money meant for food, rent, or medicine
  • gambling on credit
  • already struggling with some form of addiction
  • lying about or hiding gambling

To find help, contact the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling at 1-800-426-1234. They aim to reduce the impacts of gambling disorder and strive to make gambling healthy and safe for the people of Massachusetts.

Resource specialists at LifePath are available as well to provide support and information. Call us at 413-775-5555 or 978-544-2259, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Read past articles in the Seniorgram column.

Volunteering improves brain function and boosts happiness

Volunteers make a world of difference in the lives of those they serve, and giving back also benefits the volunteer. According to the AARP at www.createthegood.org, benefits of volunteering for older adults can include lowering stress, finding new friends and social opportunities, gaining confidence and a continued sense of purpose. Aren’t you more interesting company when you have something to talk about?

April 2018 Volunteers to be thanked in The Good Life photo WEBLifePath offers many opportunities to volunteer. Shown here, Rides for Health Volunteer Driver Steve McKnight helps Martha Shibilo to her car. Martha says that without Steve, "I don't know what I’d do. I really don't know what I'd do. I just call him and ask him if he can pick me up at a certain time, and he's right there. Hasn't refused me yet,” she laughs.“Brain Benefits for Seniors Who Volunteer,” a 2009 study by Johns Hopkins University, revealed that “volunteering increases brain functioning because activity gets you moving and thinking at the same time.” Volunteers also experience “The Happiness Effect,” which is similar to the aftermath of a vigorous workout. That feeling of happiness and well-being comes from a release of dopamine in the brain, and helping others has that exact same effect. The more you volunteer, the happier you become!

So, as the song says, “Don’t worry, be happy,” and use those extra hours in your weekly schedule for good. Share your skills and experience to benefit local nonprofits, make new friends, or help an organization that has helped you. RSVP of the Pioneer Valley is the volunteer connector for adults 55 and older who have some time and wish to help food banks, meals programs, thrift shops, or give elders who are homebound  some companionship or rides to medical appointments. RSVP offers options, you choose, and we facilitate the match.

Want more suggestions to challenge your interests and skills? Contact me, RSVP Volunteer Manager Pat Sicard, now This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 413-387-4558 x1.  

Stopping unsolicited mail, phone calls, and email

Tired of having your mailbox crammed with unsolicited mail, including pre-approved credit card applications? Fed up with getting telemarketing calls just as you're sitting down to dinner? Fuming that your email inbox is chock-full of unsolicited advertising? The good news is that you can cut down on the number of unsolicited mailings, calls, and emails you receive by learning where to go to "just say no."

Consumer reporting companies

If you decide that you don't want to receive prescreened offers of credit and insurance, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years or opt out of receiving them permanently.

To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.

To opt out permanently: You may begin the permanent opt-out process online at www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.

When you call or visit the website, you'll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out.

If you don't have access to the Internet, you may send a written request to permanently opt out to each of the major consumer reporting companies. Make sure your request includes your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth.

Experian
Opt Out
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094

Equifax, Inc.
Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374

Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Some people may be uncomfortable sharing so much of their their personal identifiers, even when it is to a confidential service, and may wish to continue receiving these offers rather than opt-out. The choice is yours.

Direct marketers

Telemarketing

The federal government's National Do Not Call Registry is a free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home. To register your phone number or to get information about the registry, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number. Telephone numbers on the registry will only be removed when they are disconnected and reassigned, or when you choose to remove a number from the registry.

Mail and email

Consumers can register at the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) consumer website: www.DMAchoice.org for a processing fee of $2 for a period of ten years. Registering online is the fastest way to see results. DMAchoice offers consumers a simple, step-by-step process that enables them to decide what mail they do and do not want.

In addition, DMAchoice online offers registration for DMA's eMail Preference Service (to reduce your unsolicited commercial email).

If you do not wish to complete your registration online, you can register for DMAchoice by using the mail-in form that is online at: fill out the DMAChoice Mail In Form with all required information, print it and mail to the address below.

Or, if you do not have access to the Internet, you can register by sending your name and address (with signature), along with a $3 processing fee (check or money order payable to DMA) to:

DMAchoice
Data & Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

Department of Motor Vehicles

The Drivers Privacy Protection Act allows states to distribute personal information only to law enforcement officials, courts, government agencies, private investigators, insurance underwriters, and similar businesses — but not for direct marketing and other uses.

Article reprinted from the Federal Trade Commission website at consumer.ftc.gov.