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Thriving in place with smart technology

The United States is a graying nation. With it has come a new conversation about aging, namely, the difference between simply getting older versus thriving as you age.

Important work related to the research and development of technologies to help elders thrive in place is taking place worldwide. Falls are a leading cause of injury-related death among older adults and a major reason why many elders become unable to live independently. In response, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging is working to develop clothing that would provide hip protection to help prevent a fracture upon a fall. The University is also working to develop a device to be mounted on an individual’s glasses to help detect edges, such as stairs, curbs, or benches, which could create falling hazards.

Aging in place with smart technology in the home

“Smart” technology can enhance the livability of one’s home too. For example, motion-sensor lighting is not only convenient, but can prevent falls when walking into a room. If you forget to lock the door, your home can remind you and even take care of it for you. With one touch or voice control, you can control just about everything in the home. As you age, your connected smart home can help you continue to live independently, safely, and comfortably.

Health-monitoring and tracking smart devices

Devices that monitor and track your health are becoming more popular among all age populations. Telemedicine and Telehealth capabilities and communications are particularly valuable in rural communities and enable long-distance patient and clinician contact and care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, and monitoring. Health data can be collected through wearable technologies like smartwatches and relayed to your care providers. Activity sensors through the house monitor loved ones who are living unassisted at home. These sensors can be placed in discreet locations: doors, cabinets, windows, beds, etc., to track movement around the house and report back to a caregiver or a loved one. 

“Smart” pill counters alert and properly dispense medications for you. Stovetop technologies will turn the stove off if left unattended for a predetermined amount of time. “Smart” doors that don't require fumbling with a handle – and in some cases, don't swing out, but slide side to side – can assist elders who struggle to get around. “Smart” doorbells help ensure one’s safety at home by allowing a homeowner to see, hear, and speak to someone at their door without having to open it.

Smart technology for inviduals with dementia

Of note is the positive effect technology is having on improving the quality of life and easing safety concerns for individuals with dementia. Assistive technology is also impactful in lifting some of the responsibilities and anxieties experienced by caregivers.

Sept 2017 World Alzheimers Day photo webThe Alzheimer's Music Project provides iPods with custom playlists to individuals with dementia. You can donate your gently-used iPod Shuffle or iPod Touch by mailing it to: Alzheimer's Music Project, Inc., 138 Harkness Rd., Pelham, MA 01002. Visit The Alzheimer's Music Project website for more information. Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on reminder messages can prompt a person not to open the door or to go back to bed. Those who may confuse day and night can experience altered sleep patterns, which may be disruptive to the household. Clocks designed specifically for those with dementia can hold set routines. GPS tracking and location devices can significantly increase the safety of individuals who may wander. These systems, which can be attached to the person or may be built into clothing or shoes, will alert a caregiver if their loved one has left the home. These tracking devices can also provide emergency personnel with the location of an individual to ensure a timely and safe recovery. For those who cannot remember or identify phone numbers, picture phones with clear buttons where photos can be placed enable the person to simply press the button to quickly call their loved one or first responders.

Music technology through the use of ipods or mp3 players can have a marked impact on quality of life. According to Peter Acker, director of The Alzheimer's Music Project, “Research has shown that familiar and beloved music helps to calm chaotic brain activity in people with Alzheimer’s and they’re more able to focus on the present moment and regain a sense of his/her connection to others. We work with families and caregivers in Massachusetts to create music playlists that are ‘tailored’ for each person – enabling those struggling with cognitive challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.”

While no cure exists yet for Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, emerging technologies can alleviate anxieties, help establish routines, and offer vehicles for sustaining joyful relationships as well as enable dignity and independence. These investments, and others like them, can transform the aging in place experience. In this season of giving, consider introducing some of these remarkable technologies to a loved one aging in their home. For more information, contact us.

Additional “Seniorgram” articles can be found here.

Part 1: Moving beyond opioids

Most people experience some kind of pain during their lives. Pain serves an important purpose: it warns the body when it’s in danger. Think of when your hand touches a hot stove. But ongoing pain causes distress and affects quality of life. Pain is the number one reason people see a doctor.

Healthy Living Pain Management photo WEBThe Healthy Living program at LifePath offers a free Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop that helps people build self-confidence to assume an active role in managing their chronic pain. Participants explore the cause of pain; distraction and relaxation techniques; dealing with difficult emotions, stress, fatigue, isolation, and poor sleep; appropriate exercise; strategies on healthy eating, weight management, and nutrition; pacing activity and rest; and more. The next six-week workshop series starts on February 14, 2019, at North Quabbin Recovery Center. Learn more or register here.A class of drugs called opioids is often used to treat pain. One reason, explains National Institutes of Health (NIH) pain expert Dr. Michael Oshinsky, is that opioids work well for many people. Opioids can stop the body from processing pain on many levels, from the skin to the brain. Because they work throughout the body, he says, “Opioids can be very effective for multiple types of pain.”

But opioids also produce feelings of happiness and well-being. And they’re reinforcing: the more people take them, the more they crave them. This can lead to addiction, or continuing to take opioids despite negative consequences. Scientists have not yet been able to develop opioids that reduce pain without producing these addicting effects, Oshinsky explains.

The longer someone takes opioids, the more they may need to take to get the same effect. This is called tolerance. Having a high tolerance doesn’t always mean you’ll become addicted. But taking higher doses of opioids increases the risk for both addiction and overdose.

The U.S. is now in the grip of an opioid crisis. Every day, more than 100 Americans die from an opioid overdose. This number includes deaths from prescription opioids.

“We don’t need ‘better’ opioids. We need to move away from the reliance on opioids for developing pain treatments,” Oshinsky says.

NIH is funding research into new and more precise ways to treat pain. It’s also working to develop new treatments to combat opioid misuse and addiction.

Learn more about pain treatment alternatives to opioids in Part 2.

Article adapted from the NIH October 2018 News in Health.

new SHINE logoMedicare Part B premiums, deductibles and coinsurance for 2019

Lorraine York Edberg headshotLorraine York-EdbergThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced the Medicare Part A and B premiums and deductibles for 2019.

These figures are based on the Social Security Cost of Living increase of 2.8% for 2019, which equates to an increase of $28 monthly for every $1,000 you receive in Social Security.

The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B in 2019 will be $135.50, up from $134 in 2018. Some beneficiaries will pay less than the full standard monthly premium amount due to the statutory hold harmless provision, which limits certain beneficiaries’ increase in their Part B premium to be no greater than the increase in their Social Security benefits.

Medicare beneficiaries whose individual income is above $85,000 annually or a couple’s joint income above $170,000 annually will pay an increased amount for their Part B and Part D, called an income-related monthly adjustment amount, also known as “IRMAA.” The Federal government bases the 2019 adjustments on the beneficiaries’ 2017 Federal Income taxes. You may request a new initial determination through Social Security if you believe your IRMAA is incorrect by contacting your local Social Security office. Some other beneficiaries will be paying higher Part B premiums if they are on Medicare Part B, but not yet collecting their Social Security benefit.

The monthly Part B premium for those who are enrolled helps pay for doctors' services, x-rays and tests, outpatient hospital care, ambulance service, medical supplies, and other medical equipment. 

The 2019 Part B annual deductible will be $185 for all people with Medicare, an increase of $2 from 2018. The Part B deductible is annual; once you have incurred $185 of expenses for Medicare-covered services in any year, the Part B deductible does not apply to any further covered services you receive for the rest of the year.

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) helps pay for hospital care, skilled nursing care, home health care, hospice care, and other services. The Part A deductible will increase from $1,340 to $1,364 for beneficiaries with Medicare only; the Part A deductible is the beneficiary’s only cost for up to 60 days of Medicare-covered inpatient hospital services. The 61st to the 90th day has increased from $335 to $341 a day, and beyond the 90th day has increased from $670 to $682 a day. For beneficiaries who have a Medigap plan to supplement Medicare, often most of these costs are covered by their supplemental insurance.

The skilled nursing facility coinsurance increased from $167.50 to $170.50 for the 21st to the 100th day. Medicare Part A covers the first 20 days in a skilled nursing facility, after a three-day qualifying stay in a hospital.

Many Medicare beneficiaries purchase additional insurance to cover the gaps of Medicare to help reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

This article is based on a news release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The SHINE Program, Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone… with Medicare, provides free, confidential, and unbiased health insurance counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. To reach a trained and certified counselor in your area, contact the regional office at 1-800-498-4232 or 413-773-5555 or contact your local council on aging.

Jessica Riel headshotJessica Riel, EditorEvery year, it feels like more and more information vies for a piece of our time. In 2018, there are not just computers and smartphones that ding and buzz with bits of news, but even watches, cars, and home devices talk and beep at us so we can stay in the millions of loops abuzz on our planet. And that’s on top of the old standards like television, radio, and the tangible newspaper, which, perhaps thankfully, don’t tend to chime and vibrate to get our attention, but are still there waiting to be listened to and perused.

Amid all that chaos of information, you’ve decided to take time to read these pages, and for that we are thankful. Whether you read the articles and stories presented here on newsprint in The Recorder, in our monthly mailing, or online via email subscription or here, thank you for taking the time to stay in the loop with us.

We also want to send thanks to the many people who helped each story come to life, by being interviewed or putting their own words to paper. For those of you who read online, the top 2018 story visited this year was about Dino Schnelle, who participated in our free Healthy Living workshop on managing chronic pain. Dino reported that “the goal-setting and expectations-management tools have been one of the most important things that I learned, and the exercise and diet tools continue to help me reclaim my life.” If you know someone who could benefit from the program or are interested yourself, new sessions begin in February 2019. Find a Healthy Living workshop calendar here, and request more information about our Healthy Living program here. You can also call Program Manager Andi Waisman at 413-773-5555 x2297 or 978-544-2259 x2297.

Reviewing the top stories in 2018 helps us to determine what to cover in the coming year, but if you’d like to share your own thoughts and ideas, we welcome them! You can reach me, the editor of The Good Life, by email or by writing to:

Jessica Riel
Editor, The Good Life
LifePath, Inc.
101 Munson St., Ste. 201
Greenfield, MA 01301

If you missed a past edition of The Good Life, you can find it online here. There you can also sign up to receive The Good Life in your email inbox each week. And if you know someone who doesn’t have access to The Good Life in the Saturday Recorder or via the internet, you can also reach out to me (email, mail, or phone: 413-773-5555 x2296 or 978-544-2259 x2296) with a request to sign up for the monthly mailing subscription list.

Have a very happy new year!

If you need a hand, let us know. We’re here to help!

Oct 2017 PP dining centers luncheon clubs photoWe’re really good at keeping people at home. We’re even better at getting them out of the house. Senior Dining Centers and Luncheon Clubs offer more the a meal; they are a social gathering of friends. Shown here is a convivial crowd at the Warwick Luncheon Club in 2015.

Late on a weekday morning, the air fills with a light breeze as you walk up to a door, opening it the scent of a warm harvest soup simmering on a stove and the sound of lively voices chattering out into the country air.

You walk into a friendly lunchtime gathering, pick a seat by a window, and take a few minutes to settle before you add your voice to the discussion around you.

Welcome to your local dining center and luncheon club. More than a dozen groups gather during the week all across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. Have you given one of these lunches a try? It’s worth dropping by and seeing why so many locals keep returning.

“It’s good visiting time. We have a chance to gab,” says a luncheon club attendee. “We have a good time!”

Shelburne Senior Center 45th Anniversary photoThe Shelburne Senior Dining Center was one of six dining center and luncheon club locations to celebrate a 45th anniversary in 2018.Seniors age 60 and older and their spouses of any age are invited to attend. Individuals with disabilities who are under age 60 and reside in the same home as an elder diner may also attend. Dining centers and luncheon clubs offer a time to enjoy a meal in the company of neighbors and friends. Call one of our locations to order a meal.

Participants are asked to call to sign up for lunch by 11 a.m., one serving day in advance. You do not have to be a resident of the community in which you dine. A $3 suggested donation will help cover the cost of the meals.

The Athol, Deerfield, Montague, Northfield, Orange, and Shelburne dining centers all reached their 45th anniversaries this year, having been among the first meal sites to open back in 1973.

Dining centers and luncheon clubs have been managed by LifePath since 1974. For more information, contact us. Read more about the program and find menus.