Mature Matters

March 15, 2012  
Filed under Columnists

Does Good Nutrition Change As We Age?

By Sarah Lemnah

Everyone knows about the food pyramid and how we are supposed to eat well- balanced meals. But does good nutrition change as we age? Do people in different age groups need to approach food differently? The answer may surprise you. As people age, their bodies change, the way they metabolize food is altered and their daily activity usually diminishes.

Every year, beginning at age 40, our metabolism begins to slow down. This means if you eat like a 20-year-old when you are 40 and you have the same or less physical activity, you will gain weight.

Seem to be adding a lot more salt lately? As we age, we also lose some of our ability to taste and smell. Oftentimes, salt is one of the first things we don’t taste as well, so we add more. However, salt can lead to high blood pressure and as we age we are more likely to have high blood pressure.

The digestive system also slows down, so it is more difficult to process certain vitamins and minerals such as B12, B6 and folic acid, which are needed for memory and good circulation. As we age, it becomes more difficult to get Vitamin D through sun exposure because our skin becomes less efficient about synthesizing Vitamin D, which is important in aiding the body in absorbing calcium. Supplements may be needed as one ages, so you should consult with your doctor.

If you want your bones to remain strong, you need to make sure you get the proper amount of calcium to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Seniors need 1,200 mg. of calcium each day – available through milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, broccoli, almonds and/or through supplements.

We all know we are supposed to drink water, and as we age this becomes even more important because we tend to be prone to dehydration. We lose the ability to regulate fluids and our sense of thirst diminishes.

We are also more prone to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, cancer and anemia, but a healthy diet reduces your risk of all of the above. A good diet is the best investment you can make to stay vital, healthy and young at heart.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.


Memory or Medication?

By Sarah Lemnah

 

What does natural aging look like? What is dementia? Far too often we assume that as people age, they will get forgetful, confused and disoriented. Often times we don’t ask why a senior has memory loss, we just assume that it is part of the aging process or they have some sort of dementia. However, if we dig a little deeper, what we might find is that many seniors have memory issues as a direct result of some of their medications.

Many seniors are living with chronic conditions requiring them to take three or more pills a day. However, as we age our metabolism slows down, allowing drugs to stay in our system for a greater amount of time. Having drugs in your system for longer periods of time makes seniors more likely to experience side effects. In addition, the cumulative effect of taking multiple medications for multiple conditions sets the stage for seniors to experience some confusion and disorientation. According to a study done by the Indiana School of Medicine in 2010, more than 100 drugs may cause some form of memory loss.

A sudden onset of memory loss and confusion is often a result of the toxic effects of medications causing a condition known as delirium. If you suspect yourself or a loved one of having experienced delirium, you should go to the hospital. Some of these effects are temporary, but some can be permanent if not treated.

You might be surprised to learn that many of these drugs are probably in your medicine cabinet. Though it probably would not surprise you to know that sleeping aids, sedatives, and pain medications can cause some confusion or memory impairment, you might be surprised what other types of medications are on the list — Advil and Aleve, cold and allergy medications, medications for blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stomach medications like Pepcid, antibiotics, neurological medications and antidepressants to name a few. Are you prone to allergies? Antihistamines can also cause memory loss in some individuals. To see if your medications have been identified as connected to memory loss, visit http:// memorydr.com/med.htm and have a conversation with your doctor about the risk of taking your medications.

There are no solid numbers on how many people are experiencing memory loss due to their medications, but the more medications you take, the greater chance you have of developing delirium. Sometimes, the remedy is simply a matter of adjusting the dosage or using a different medication to treat a condition. Two people can take the same dosage of the same medication and have very different results. Or someone could be taking the same medication for years, but as he ages and his metabolism changes, he might experience different side effects.

Delirium usually comes on quickly and is characterized by severe confusion. Often times not taking the proper dosage of a medication can bring on a delirium episode. How many of us forget whether we have taken our medication or not and accidentally double dosed? This double dosing can bring on delirium. Accidentally taking the wrong dosage is why doctors and pharmacists recommend having a pill box that divides your pills out by the day and the time of the day they are meant to be taken.

In addition, some seniors have medical conditions that can impact memory including diabetes, heart conditions, hormone imbalances, infections and cancer. People with chronic pain or sleep disorders frequently experience memory loss or confusion. Ever heard that stress is the cause of most of our ills? When it comes to memory loss, stress,  anxiety and depression can often lead to disorientation and confusion.

Some things can cause permanent memory loss or damage. Alcoholism can result in memory loss and possibly dementia. Some alcoholics can develop short term memory loss that leads to long term memory loss. Deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause permanent damage to brain cells, and if not treated, can lead to worsening memory loss and progressive nerve damage.

Though this information may seem alarming or overwhelming, it is actually good news. If you experience confusion or memory loss, consult your doctor or local hospital. The solution might be a simple adjustment to your dosage or to be more vigilant about taking the proper dosage.

Confusion or memory loss does not mean your have dementia or Alzheimer’s. It does not mean that memory loss cannot be reversed. Sometimes memory loss is a simple side effect that can be quickly treated.

Never assume confusion or memory loss is a normal part of aging. Talk to your doctor and take note of any side effects or changes in behavior, particularly when you start taking a new medication or change dosages.

Memory loss is not something to be ignored!

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or visit cvaa.org.


Art is Ageless

By Sarah Lemnah

With each step down the corridors of the Converse Home in Burlington, you pass a breathtaking piece of art from every medium imaginable. There are oil paintings, watercolors, sketches, rug hooking, stained glass and even a buckskin shirt. This gallery display was not done by professional artists, but by the residents, staff and family members of the Converse Home.

“Visitors to our gallery have been impressed by the quality and diversity of the works displayed,” noted Kandace Benedini, Marketing Director for the Converse Home. “Each exhibit is quite unique.”

One of the most unique is from resident artist Bob Wood, who made a buckskin shirt fashioned after one worn by President Teddy Roosevelt. “I have always been interested in history,” explained Wood. “One book had a sketch of Roosevelt in a buckskin shirt. I used skins from a deer I shot myself and made the buttons from deer antlers.”

Wood is a gifted painter who displayed one of his watercolors in a previous Converse Home showing. “My hands are too shaky to paint now,” explained Wood, a sentiment shared by fellow resident artist Larry Steuer. “I can’t paint now because of the shaking. I might be on to a new art form, Andy Warhol be damned,” joked Steuer.

Both men said art has been a major part of their life. This exhibit has been a chance for them and other artists to share their work and learn more about each other. “I was impressed with us old folks, we have some talent. It was a great idea to show it off,”said Steuer.

The idea for the gallery came from Benedini and its impact has been greater than she could have imagined. “The display has gotten residents out more. There is talk of starting an art class. The artists have big smiles and they feel really proud,” she said.

Kellie DeCicco, a staff artist who helped organized the 31-piece showing from 18 artists, recalled how one artist who lives in the memory unit can tell you all about her painting.

Benedini noted that staff  bring in their families just to look at the showing. “It is important for residents. We want them to be as independent as possible,” she said. Resident artists agree that the decision to hold the showing is a winner. “I thought it was a great idea,” said Steuer. “It gave residents something to crow about.”

Wood said, “It was good for residents and staff to find out more about each other and it is good PR also, bringing outsiders in, as well.”

This showing has been so successful there are already plans to hold another. Residents are proving that art is ageless.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.


‘Legal’ or ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Safe

By Sarah Lemnah

 

If you are like most Americans, you are probably taking prescription medications and over the counter drugs. Throw in some vitamins and herbal supplements and you potentially have a very dangerous situation. Most people never think to discuss their over the counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements with their doctors, but this oversight can be lethal. People wrongly assume that if you buy items over the counter, or if a supplement is all natural, then it is safe. Mixing medications (both over the counter and those that are prescribed) along with supplements and vitamins can be a dangerous combination since many of them have the same active elements or they lessen the effectiveness of medications. Before starting any medications or supplements, be sure to talk with your doctor or your pharmacist to make sure that the combination will not produce adverse interactions.

According to the Northern New England Poison Center, common dangerous drug combinations include: combining blood pressure medicine with cold medications which can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure; taking iron and antibiotics together, which will lessen or stop the effectiveness of the antibiotic; taking Coumadin (a prescribed blood thinner) and ginkgo biloba (an herbal supplement) and Vitamin E, which increases the risk of internal bleeding since all three products thin the blood.

In addition to interactions, some supplements and vitamins have serious side effects of their own, especially if taken in large doses. For example, according to the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging, large doses of vitamin A can influence bone health and large doses of vitamin B6 can influence nerves and cause a condition called peripheral neuropathy.

And while dietary supplements can be complementary to traditional medical treatments, herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA like medications and can have serious side effects. For example, supplements containing ephedra may damage the heart and nervous system and have been linked to 17 deaths, according to the American Council on Science and Health. Taking vitamins and minerals in excess can be harmful. Taking large doses of vitamin D can damage the kidneys, large doses of vitamin A can damage the liver and high doses of vitamin B6 can cause numbness and difficulty walking.

Seniors are more susceptible to drug interactions since they are more likely to be on multiple medications. Two-thirds of adults over 65 take one or more drugs each day, and 25 percent of seniors take more than three drugs each day. In addition, older adults metabolize medications differently.

Doctors may not ask if you are taking anything besides what they have prescribed. Ultimately, you are responsible for your health—do not assume because something says it is natural or is sold in a health food store or over the counter at your local pharmacy that it is okay for you to combine it with your other medications. Sometimes what the label does not say is what you most need to know.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA.  For more information on services for seniors call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119


What is the Face of Homelessness?

By Sarah Lemnah

 

“People see someone on the street and think that is the face of homelessness,” states Becky Holt, Director of Communications for the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). “The face of homelessness is our community, people of all ages, including seniors.” COTS has seen record numbers over the past four years, including an increase in the number of seniors who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless.

For many seniors, an illness or injury can send their finances into a tailspin. “For a senior on a fixed income, one unexpected expense like a medical expense, their car needs to be repaired so they can go to work, or there is a benefits discrepancy can put them at risk for being homeless,” says Jonathan Farrell, Housing Resource Center Coordinator for COTS, whose mission is to try to stave off homelessness.

The good news is there is help for those who have fallen behind in their rent or mortgage payments and who face eviction or foreclosure. Farrell’s team works with landlords, credit unions, area service providers and individuals to try to find solutions and assistance to get people back on their feet. Working with seniors can have additional challenges. “Many seniors are reluctant to ask for help. They are proud and say they always take care of themselves,” says Farrell. “Many seniors find the place they are living is no longer suitable for them due to accessibility,” Holt adds.

For low income seniors, there are programs to help them settle any arrearages over the last two months, which is a vital piece of the assistance, according to Farrell. “You have to understand how much relief there is to get back to zero so they can move forward. The stress of knowing that you owe money and the fear of losing housing is pretty significant.”

For seniors looking to apply for assistance, they need to meet income level requirements, have documentation from their landlord about arrearages and proof of hardship. Farrell looks to what caused their financial hardship to see if there are programs and benefits in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again or to determine if this was a one-time event. For people late on their mortgages, there are low-interest mortgages available. Some case managers have helped seniors obtain hearing aids and help with overdue medical bills in addition to overdue rent payments.

Holt says, “Housing is expensive in Vermont and people who live paycheck to paycheck are at risk.” Currently there is a long wait for Section 8 assistance and even then there is an issue of the security deposit, which Section 8 does not cover. COTS has started a program to help people with security deposits.

“The expense of evictions on credit is so high, the cost of emergency hotels or shelter is enormous and the toll it takes on self esteem is enormous,” says Farrell. “Winters are cold, and housing really is the main support of everything. We can’t expect people to perform well at work, or at school or recover from an illness without a home.”

For many of the people receiving help from COTS, they will not need assistance in the future which is the goal of the program. “Hopefully, we will never see them again,” Farrell says.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.


Are you missing the signs?

By Sarah Lemnah

No matter how old we get, our visions and expectations of the holidays never seem to change. We expect everything to be just as it was. When we walk in the door we expect the clean, organized home we grew up in and the smell of gingerbread cookies. Home is the place where our parents made sure everything was safe and welcoming and there was no reason to worry. As we grow older, perhaps our expectations should change.

My friend Shane found out that missing the signs that your folks are struggling can be serious. Last Christmas, Shane decided he was going home to Colorado to spend the holiday with his Mom. She had been a widow for about 10 years and had just turned 85 years old. All of her children had moved out of Colorado and she had been alone since her husband passed. Shane, who was recently divorced, had not been home to see his Mom in over two years. Life got busy and between work and two teenage kids and a divorce, there never seemed to be enough time. Shane tried to call his Mom when he could but the calls had not been as regular as they once were. Shane noticed his Mom was not calling him as much as she used to and sometimes her calls seemed strange. At first, her lapse of remembering names Shane shrugged off as normal aging, but then she seemed to not know or remember some family members and lifelong friends. She would call and ask how to cook a turkey even though she had been cooking her whole life. She would seem surprised that she had to file taxes or fill out paperwork.

So for the first time in over two years, Shane stepped on a plane heading home. He expected his Mom to be a little frail and walking a little more slowly but he did not expect to find what he did. He had told his Mom to not bother going to the airport that he would take a cab home, but he half suspected his Mom would ignore his wishes and be waiting for him. He arrived at the airport and there was no one there, so he got in the cab and headed home. When he arrived the door was unlocked, which was not like his Mom and there were no lights on. He let himself in to see his Mom sleeping in her chair. She seemed surprised to see him; she did not seem to remember he was coming even though they had been talking of little else for the past few months. On the table next to her chair was a huge pile of unopened mail and a letter from the light company threatening to shut off the power.

Shane’s Mom did not want to discuss the mail or the bills, saying it was her business. He noticed the normally neat home was messy and dirty. Dirty dishes were in the sink and his Mom looked like she had been wearing the same clothes for days. She had bad breath and body odor and Shane wondered how long she had been on this decline. Shane’s plane had landed at 5 p.m. and he had expected that a feast would be awaiting him. However, there was no food in the oven and few groceries in the refrigerator. It seemed like the only food in the house came in a can. An empty pot sat on the stove and it looked like it had been through a few scorching moments.

His Mom seemed quiet, which was strange because his Dad always said that if he ever had a moment of silence in his house he would assume his wife had left him because she was a chatterbox. Shane said he tried to get his Mom to talk about her sewing club, but she said she no longer sewed that she just couldn’t seem to get it right anymore. Shane knew he should have been home sooner and not ignored the signs. Her medications were strewn over the house and in no particular order and he wondered if his Mom had been taking or overtaking medications. This was not the Mom he grew up with and was not the homecoming he was expecting.

Now what to do? He knew he would have to call his sisters and there would need to be a family meeting. He knew his mom could not be alone, that she needed some assistance and he knew that his mother was not going to be happy with people questioning her. Missing the warning signs meant his mom had struggled for far too long to hide the challenges she was facing. Over the last year, the family has worked to find ways to make their mom safe, happy and at home.

So this holiday season when you go home, keep your eyes open and really listen to what your folks are saying. People who need help rarely ask for it, but if you pay attention it is usually obvious. The best gift you can give loved ones is the gift of taking an interest in their lives.

10 Holiday Warning Signs Senior Loved Ones Need Help

Poor eating habits resulting in weight loss, no appetite or missed meals.

Neglected hygiene—wearing dirty clothes, body odor, neglected nails and teeth.

Neglected home—it’s not as clean or sanitary as you remember growing up.

Inappropriate behavior—acting loud, quiet, paranoid or making phone calls at all hours.

Changed relationship patterns that friends or neighbors have noticed.

Burns or injuries resulting from weakness, forgetfulness or misuse of alcohol or medications.

Decreased participation in activities such as attending the senior center, book club or church.

Scorched pots and pans showing forgetfulness for dinner cooking on the stove.

Unopened mail, newspaper piles, missed appointments.

Mishandled finances such as losing money, paying bills twice or hiding money.

Source: Council on Aging. Info provided by Senior Helpers.


Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.


No One is Too Old For Santa Claus

By Sarah Lemnah

The Christmas season is fast approaching and with it comes visions of sugarplums, Santa Claus, and the squeals of delight from children. What we don’t see or think about is the ever growing population of lonely seniors living at home alone, forgotten on a day that has always stood for family, friends and good cheer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9 percent of U.S. seniors 65 and older are living in poverty and 27 percent are widowed. For many of these seniors, Christmas is one more lonely day.

Home Instead Senior Care along with many of its community partners including CVAA are working together to make sure that no one is too old for Santa Claus. The Be a Santa to a Senior program has been bringing joy to area seniors for the past eight years. Last year, more than 1,000 gifts were distributed to 600 seniors who were alone over the holidays and struggling to get the bare necessities.

“Seniors faced with medical bills and the high cost of living can find they have little left at the end of the year,” Said Patrice Thabault, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in South Burlington. “That’s not the only issue, though. Personal needs may become magnified for so many living alone with no one to share their problems.”

Home Instead Senior Care works with area retailers like Kinney Drugs (in Chittenden, Addison, Franklin, Grand Isle and Lamoille counties), Big Lots, Rosie’s Restaurant, Dealer.com and G.E. Healthcare among others to “host” trees. Each tree is decorated with a paper ornament that lists something a local senior needs or wants for a holiday gift. People take the ornament, buy the gift and then leave it unwrapped at the tree location. Trees went up in November and presents will be collected on Dec. 12.

Tracey Corbett, a CVAA Meals on Wheels Coordinator, has seen firsthand the impact this program has had on seniors in Addison County. “The Be a Santa to a Senior program gives us a wonderful way to share some holiday cheer with many of our seniors who otherwise might not have anything under the tree. Whether a replacement for a well worn sweatshirt, a new hat or a much needed energy efficient space heater, each gift is joyfully delivered along with a piping hot meal by our terrific Meals on Wheels volunteers, and is gratefully received! We are fortunate for the kindness of Home Instead in offering us this opportunity.”

Some seniors ask for items like blankets and hats to keep them warm, and some ask for food baskets to help them make it through the month, however many other seniors don’t ask for themselves at all but want something for their little furry companion. For many seniors, their pets are their best friends and getting a gift for their dog or cat can mean more than anything else they receive. For Elizabeth in Swanton it is all about her little rescued dog. When asked what she wanted this year, she happily replied, “Anything is perfect, anything for Suzy Q.” Suzy is her cocker spaniel and best companion. “Wouldn’t trade my baby for anything,” Elizabeth explains and is eager to see what is given to her faithful friend this year.

Liz in Enosburg found the food basket last year helpful. The Be a Santa to a Senior program “is great. The stuff you get is helpful and it is nice to see someone come around and see a friendly face.”

Don’t let a senior be alone and forgotten on the holidays. For more information about the program, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com or call 860-4663.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.

Avoid Being Scammed

By Sarah Lemnah

 

Every day we are bombarded with telemarketers calling, junk mail arriving and sometimes even people coming uninvited to our doors to try to sell us something that we don’t want or don’t need. Vermont has been spared most of the scams and fraud that have totally overwhelmed many states. However, recently Vermont has seen more activity that targets seniors. Sometimes it is an independent insurance rep who promises that his product will reduce expenses and improve coverage for seniors. Sometimes it is a phone call saying that a family member is in trouble and they need to send money.

One senior in the Champlain Valley was scammed out of hundreds of dollars by participating in a prescription assistance program that promised to reduce her prescription costs but actually just made off with the high enrollment fee she paid. Patricia Selsky, a CVAA SHIP (State Health Insurance Program) Coordinator, received a call from this woman. “Upon talking with the client, I realized that something was very wrong. She wanted to drop her Medicare drug plan for a prescription assistance program which would supply all her medicines for free but had a large application fee. She was facing the donut hole and having to pay a higher cost for her medications. CVAA is in the process of getting her financial help through the Vermont Pharmacy Program. In my years with SHIP, I have never seen so much inappropriate activity going on from bad marketing practices to misleading information and worst of all, fraud. We all need to be vigilant and protective of our personal information and most importantly, report all suspicious activity.”

Calls about suspected scams and frauds targeting seniors regularly come into the Senior HelpLine at CVAA. According to John Barbour, CVAA Executive Director, “a lot of people are more than willing to take advantage of unsuspecting seniors — fake charities trying to raise money for their fake (but good-sounding) cause, people who call or email you pretending to be family members, companies who want to sell you insurance policies that may not be in your best interest. Never feel pressured. If someone is willing to take your money or sell you a product today, they’ll be just as willing to do the same next week or next month — after you have had time to think it through and check them out.”

“Many seniors don’t file complaints because they don’t want to get involved or they are embarrassed,” says Anita Hoy, Director of Vermont SMP (Senior Medicare Patrol). Hoy reminds seniors to be vigilant about protecting themselves from scams and fraud. (See related story page 24)

Remember to protect your Medicare number and your social security number like it was a credit card or banking account number. Medicare will not call your home and ask for your Medicare number or social security number. If someone calls you and asks for this information, do not give it. Once you divulge these numbers, you are vulnerable to identity theft and Medicare fraud. Watch out for lookalike letters that appear to be from Social Security or Medicare. Never throw out Medicare or health care papers without shredding them.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud or a scam, call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

Sarah Lemnah is the Commincations and Development Director for CVAA.

Fresh is best

Summer is finally upon us with its wonderful bounty. Farmers’ markets are in full swing, local farms are inviting you to come and pick strawberries, and everywhere you look is food of every color and texture. Sometimes we get in a rut and purchase canned or frozen vegetables… forgetting that fresh is best. As we age, it is even more important that we think about our diet and introduce some fresh vegetables and fruit into our everyday diet to improve our health, our mind and to wake up our taste buds from the long dreary winter.

Eating well reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, as you make healthier choices, you will recognize some immediate benefits. You will have more energy, you will build up your immune system so you won’t get sick as often, you will find your clothes fit better due to better weight management and, best of all, you will just feel better.

Eating healthier may not sound fun until you visit your local farmers’ markets, which offer a rich array of whole wheat breads, fresh honey, corn on the cob, strawberries and a variety of other fresh vegetables and fruit that are high in flavor and nutrients and low in everything bad. Many people think fresh produce is challenging. “As CVAA’s registered dietitian, I hear about  the challenges of using fresh produce. This time of year, fresh is more available closer to home,” says Kathy Backes, CVAA dietitian. “It is time to celebrate the rainbow of colors fruits and vegetables come in. The more open you can make your mind, the more receptive your taste buds will be, too. The more colors you eat, the more nutrition you will be getting.”

Using fresh produce does not have to be difficult or time intensive, according to Rodney Rehwinkel, Executive Chef at the Basin Harbor Resort and a judge for CVAA’s Top Chef of the Champlain Valley. Some great tips from Rehwinkel include “asparagus, a quick blanch or steam or cover and microwave with a few drops of water. Great with a squeeze of lemon and a little sea salt and fresh grind of black pepper.”

Rehwinkel also recommends moving toward “squash, zucchini and fresh green and yellow beans that you steam until al dente and sprinkle with a little olive oil and sea salt, and fresh grind of black pepper.”

As we age, our bodies digest food differently and our nutritional needs change. If you eat the same diet you did when you were younger, you will gain weight because you are less active and your metabolism slows after the age of 40 — so it is important to eat foods that are high in nutritional value instead of empty calories. Avoid osteoporosis by getting 1,200 mg. of calcium a day through milk, yogurt and cheeses. Choose whole grains and lean proteins. A good rule of thumb is divide your body weight in half and that is how many grams of protein you need each day. So if you weigh 130 pounds, you will need about 65 grams of protein. For example, tuna has about 40 grams of protein per serving. Besides meat, protein is found in fish, beans, nuts, eggs, milk and cheese.

Healthy tips for everyone include reducing your sodium intake, drinking lots of water, eating fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables and avoiding bad carbs like white flour, refined sugar and white rice.

There are many reasons that seniors have diet deficiencies. “Micronutrient deficiencies are common in the elderly due to many factors including the depletion of nutrient intake from medications, lack of food variety in the overall diet and even reduced intake through smaller portions limiting exposure to a wide variety of nutrients,” according to Annie Harlow, Farm Produce Specialist for CVAA’s Top Chef. “Fresh produce is filled with nutrients that help to rebuild the body from the effects of aging.”

If you want to support senior nutrition and learn some healthy cooking techniques and ideas, don’t miss the 6th annual Top Chef of the Champlain Valley on Aug. 6 from 6-8:30 p.m. at UVM’s Davis Center. Shawn Calley, chef at Amuse at The Essex will defend his title against Michael Clauss of the Bluebird Tavern and Andrea Cousineau of the Bearded Frog to prove they have what it takes to be the top chef. These chefs will be using only fresh local produce. More than 20 local restaurants and caterers will donate gourmet appetizers for the audience to enjoy.

The Top Chef is a benefit for CVAA’s Meals on Wheels program that serves more than 230,000 Meals on Wheels each year to homebound seniors in the Champlain Valley. Advance tickets are $40. For more information or tickets, go to www.cvaa.org or call 1-800-642-5119.

Spring Planting Takes on a Whole New Meaning

By Sarah Lemnah

For many of us, spring means it is time to get out in the yard and get your hands dirty! Gardening is back and in a big way. Never before has the push for fresh local food been greater, plus it is cheaper to grow your own vegetables than purchase them. Not only does gardening provide great nutritious food, but it also gives people a chance to slow down and de-stress. For many, gardening holds a connection to a cherished pastime that has been a part their lives for decades.

However, for some seniors, gardening may become difficult for a number of reasons. Perhaps there are mobility issues, perhaps bending is difficult or, for many seniors, they no longer live in a place where they have ready access to garden plots. Many seniors live in senior housing or have down-sized their homes and now they think that their gardening days are over. CVAA’s AmeriCorps members are out to change that. Whether you live somewhere that does not allow gardens or gardening has become too difficult, you can still grow delicious fresh vegetables with no space and no effort. Sound too good to be true? Think again.

Neighbor 2 Neighbor (N2N) AmeriCorps members are creating 30 self-watering veggie buckets to distribute to local seniors in need. Veggie buckets are portable gardens that can be placed on a senior’s porch or by a door, and are provided to local seniors at no cost to them. These buckets will come with a tomato plant and a marigold (which helps with pest control) in a large self-contained bucket that can go on your front porch or even inside if you have a sunny space.

Soon seniors around the Champlain Valley will be gardeners once again  — watching over their tomato plants and counting down to their first harvest. Bringing fresh vegetables to seniors is a priority since 25 percent of seniors are malnourished. CVAA has an ongoing relationship with the Intervale to provide fresh local produce to Meals on Wheels recipients and now the N2N AmeriCorps members are going one step further by bringing veggie buckets to seniors so they can easily grow their own vegetables, even with limited space or mobility issues.

“It has been proven that taking care of a plant improves memory, alleviates depression and helps people feel connected to nature. We are planting cherry tomatoes plants so seniors can add fresh food to their diet and feel connected to the farm to table movement,” said Paige McCormick, a N2N AmeriCorps member. “Our goal is to bring a smile and added sense of place for seniors in our community by bringing them an easy-to-care-for garden kit in their home.”

In addition to enhancing the diets of many homebound seniors, the veggie bucket project will help seniors reduce stress, will lessen depression, and stimulate memory. Taking care of something has been proven to help alleviate loneliness and depression.

These portable gardens are becoming the rage all across the country, with civic and church groups from California to Vermont constructing and delivering these gardens to seniors in their communities. Many community partners have joined CVAA and N2N AmeriCorps to make sure that no senior goes hungry and that seniors are given the chance this spring to once again be gardeners.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions, call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.


Silent Crisis in Aging Community

By Sarah Lemnah


 

More than 38 million homosexual, bisexual and transgender Americans over the age of 65 are at a crossroads in their lives: trying to determine if they continue to live the lives they fought for and worked so hard to achieve or to hide who they are and try to manage their daily lives with little support from the outside world.

There is growing support for this community, but when today’s seniors were young, homosexuality was not only looked down upon but in many places illegal. Homosexuality put individuals at risk of being attacked or institutionalized. Some viewed homosexuality as a sin, a crime, a mental illness or all of the above.

Stu Maddox’s award-winning and highly acclaimed documentary, “Gen Silent,” profiles LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) seniors in Boston, and exposes the discrimination and fear that occurs in senior housing communities and nursing homes. One man in the film named Lawrence is searching for a nursing home where he will be able to hold his partners hand. Others, like Sheri and Lois, who spent their lives fighting for equality, now contemplate whether to go back into the closet for safety reasons.

There appears to be a growing trend of homosexual seniors going back into the closet because they fear discrimination and alienation. There are stories of frail and sick seniors being told by their caregivers that unless they repent and change their lifestyles, they are going to hell. There are stories of seniors who are outed in senior housing and become isolated, depressed and suicidal. LGBT seniors overwhelmingly say they do not trust the health care system.

Until 1973, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness, and the statistics are sobering. Over 50 percent of nursing home workers say their fellow workers would be intolerant of a LGBT senior. Over 50 percent of LGBT seniors live alone, compared with 33 percent of the general population. Many LGBT seniors did not have children, have become estranged from their families and are worried about identifying their partners as their lovers, instead referring to them as a brother or sister or friend. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 19 percent of transgender individuals were denied healthcare due to their lifestyle, 26 percent were subject to harassment in a medical setting and 2 percent were victims of violence.

Sometimes, the discrimination is subtle such as when caregivers always wear gloves when dealing with homosexual patients, even when just making their beds. Other times, it is more overt, leaving seniors feeling alone, scared and helpless.

Many seniors refuse to live in senior housing because their partners would not be allowed to live with them or they fear the reaction of other seniors living there. Many LGBT seniors who once proudly identified their sexual orientation now weigh the risks of being open about their lives and allowing outsiders access to them.

“Gen Silent” is a film about basic human rights. The right to live your life without fear, the right to receive quality care, the right to choose who you have in your life in your final days. The aging process can be difficult and any barriers that make that process more difficult need to be removed. Seniors of all walks of life and all lifestyles deserve quality care, dignity and the supports and services they need to live as safely and independently as possible.

“Gen Silent” is being shown around the state and is sponsored by the Samara Fund for LGBT Issues, a Component Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation with additional support from the Department of Aging and Independent Living, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont in collaboration with RU12?, the Area Health Education Centers and the Area Agencies on Aging. For more information, call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119.

Shutting Down a Billion Dollar Business

By Sarah Lemnah

In this challenging economy, the U.S. Administration on Aging and Medicare is committed to shutting down a billion dollar a year “business” known as Medicare fraud. In the last year, the Obama administration has announced that it has recovered $5.6 billion from fraudulent claims, $2.9 billion of that in health care fraud alone. This year, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has brought cases involving over $1 billion in fraudulent claims. As part of the health care reform act, cutting waste and ending fraud are key components to paying for the nation’s health care. According to the Administration on Aging, the amount of fraud recovery dollars in the state of Vermont last year alone was $2,969,734.

So what is Medicare fraud and what can you do to avoid being its next victim? Each year, billions of taxpayer dollars are lost due to mis-billing of Medicare. In addition, many Medicare beneficiaries are scammed out of money and are targeted for identity theft.

Medicare beneficiaries should keep a diary of all their health care visits and procedures and compare that against the claims Medicare processes to make sure Medicare was not billed for services or items that they did not receive. “Many beneficiaries have called after having reviewed their statements and noticed they were charged for hospital services they haven’t received and or charged for an overnight stay when, in fact, they received outpatient treatment,” according to Anita Hoy, Director of Vermont SMP (Senior Medicare Patrol). “Reading your Medicare Summary Notice is the most effective means to identifying incorrect charges and improper payments.”

Remember to protect your Medicare number and your social security number as you would a credit card or banking account number. Medicare will not call your home and ask for your Medicare number or social security number. If someone calls you and asks for this information, do not give it. Once you share these numbers, you are vulnerable to identity theft and Medicare fraud. Watch out for look-alike letters that appear to be from Social Security or Medicare, and never throw out Medicare or health care papers without shredding them first.

One common fraud tactic is billing for more services than provided. For example, a doctor that bills for three visits when you only had two. Some of these types of errors are honest mistakes and you should call your provider to correct the billing. However, there have been cases where some providers consistently billed for services not provided, or they coded the billing incorrectly so they would receive a larger payment from Medicare, or they double billed, or in some cases they billed services for deceased patients.

Be wary of sales reps that call your home without you initiating contact. Using caution and common sense can help you avoid being a victim. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you have concerns and think you might have been a victim of Medicare fraud, report it immediately. “An informed consumer is the best prevention against health care fraud and abuse, but it’s not enough to just recognize it,” according to Patricia Selsky (State Health Insurance Assistance Program Coordinator for CVAA). “Each one of us needs to put a stop to it, by taking the time to report it.”

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, call the CVAA Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or 1-800- Medicare. For more information on Medicare or Medicare fraud attend the “Medicare 101: What You Need to Know about Medicare & Medicare Fraud” seminar at the 50 Plus & Baby Boomers EXPO on Jan. 28 at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington. (www.vermontmaturity.com/expo)

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA.

Aging Our Way

By Sarah Lemnah

The oldest old is not a term most of us would want to be called, but it is used by the U.S. Census Bureau to describe people who are 85 years old and older. Often times when we think of people over 85, we imagine them as frail, confused and sickly. Sometimes the oldest of the old are frail, but others are active and still heavily involved in their communities.

Meika Loe wrote “Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living 85 and Beyond.” Her book follows 30 seniors over the age of 85, each finding their own way. Some use humor, some are caretakers and some explore an artistic side they never knew existed.

By 2020, Americans over age 65 will outnumber those under 15 for the first time in U.S. history. By 2050, the oldest old will make up 5 percent of the U.S. population. Surprisingly over 40 percent of seniors over the age of 85 live alone. So what is their secret?

According to Loe there is no one secret to longevity. “Many of the oldest of the old are creative and resilient. There is a myth that a good attitude will lead to a long life and that is not true.”

One common thread Loe found was that all of the seniors she talked to said they had been a victim of ageism. “No one is giving them eye contact; young people are not seeing them as a full person,” according to Loe. However, as you read this book you will find a cast of characters each with their own unique personality and coping mechanism.

Let’s take Florence for example; she has re-designed her living space — creating a command center. Her recliner is the center of her world, surrounded by photos of loved ones, a radio, the telephone, containers for her mail and her calendar and a cubby for her medications. In arms reach is her walker, a flashlight, her checkbook, her lifeline alert necklace, a blanket, a pillow and her purse. “I’m content to sit here. My back aches most of the time. And I have everything that I need. I’ve got my addresses, my checks, letters to answer. My TV remote. My chair remote. See, my legs are up like they are supposed to be,” Florence states matter-of-factly. Though some people might think that spending most of her time in her recliner is sad, it works for Florence. She is comfortable and is able to reach everything she needs.

Other seniors profiled in the book do anything but stay indoors. “To be in my garden, that is my pleasure. It is so grounding. And you don’t mind being alone,” says Shana, who spent years caring for her parents and her children. No longer being a caregiver gives her a sense of freedom. “Now I do what I darn please. I garden. I read. I take pleasure in being alone. Now I do things for myself.”

Loe also noticed that many seniors “picked up hobbies that they never had time to do before. Learning who they are late in life.” At the age of 94, for example, Lore had her first public showing of her artwork.

The need for touch is a common theme. “Everytime I see Alice, she greets me with’ how about a hug?’” says Loe. “We hold hands, they ask me to hug them.” Many seniors have outlived their families and crave touch. “We all crave human contact,” Loe says.

For Loe, this book was a labor of love that contains life messages for people of all ages. The seniors she interviewed were “real, they were vulnerable; they can teach us something about being real, comfortable and vulnerable.”

Loe also found that the seniors she interviewed offered lessons about health. Loe is “troubled about future generations with the rise of asthma and diabetes and a credit society. Are we really taking care of ourselves? I am not sure we will live as long or have as good a quality of life.”

The future is hard to predict but this book shows that age does not define who we are and that people of all ages find ways to make their lives work even when faced with great challenges.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.

The Converse Home Celebrates 125 Years

By Sarah Lemnah
 
 
In “the olden days,” if you were an aging woman, widowed or never married, your housing options were limited. Today, senior communities, residential care homes and assisted living facilities are common. However in 1886, there was no place for women in need, that is until a group of concerned citizens formed a nonprofit known as the Home for Aged Women — now known as the Converse Home.Today, the Converse Home sits on the quiet end of Church Street surrounded by trees and gardens. In 1886, the Home for Aged Women was located on King Street and served only seven women. Today, 66 seniors — both men and women — call the Converse Home their home. Most organizations do not have the opportunity to celebrate 125 years in operation, but the Converse Home has become an integral part of the community.

The Converse Home is unique. The building itself used to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping southern slaves to freedom, and it was also used as a seminary for men and women. Many of the staff have been with the organization for decades. Executive Director Mary Spencer has been involved with the organization for more than 20 years, and one of the residents is a former nurse who used to work at the Home.

In 125 years, a lot can change. Locations change, additions are made, and more services and programs are added. However, even as the Converse Home grew and added more residents, more staff, more services to help with greater needs (including a memory unit) the character of the Converse Home has never changed. As you tour the Converse Home, you do not feel like you are in a facility, you feel like you are in a welcoming home environment. Residents sit laughing and talking in the lobby and in the sunroom and staff members seem to know every resident by name. As Spencer explains, “we are small enough for everyone to know everyone and big enough for everyone to find a friend.”

“Many people have the misperception that we are small and are not a home. We are a home — we are the home of 66 people,” says Kandace Benedini, Marketing Director for the Converse Home. “By the time a senior is ready to move in, they may not have been taking their medication, have become isolated and are not eating well, so when they move to the Converse Home we see improvement.”

The Converse Home finds that residents are moving in “much more along in the aging process and with more dementia,” according to Spencer. The average age is 88 and many are moving to the Converse Home from out of state to be closer to their adult children. The Converse Home gives adult children some peace of mind knowing that their parents will be given the assistance they need with medication, personal care assistance, housekeeping and laundry services, meals, transportation, and local programs including tai chi and yoga. The activities calendar offers a diverse group of activities and includes guests from the community such as Shelburne Farms bringing in baby lambs and visits from Edmunds Elementary School first graders.

Spencer is committed to “making the Converse Home feel as much like a home as possible.” According to residents, she has been successful in that. According to Fran Villemaire, a one time nurse at the Converse Home and now a resident, the Home has “all of the comforts of home and more, it is a place with a big heart.”

Unexpected Journey

Alzheimer’s and dementia are not widely talked about. People speak about it in forced whispers much like the days when cancer was not widely spoken of. With over 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, including 33,000 in Vermont, it is time people started to talk about what has become the sixth leading cause of death. If you think Alzheimer’s and dementia are a normal part of aging, think again. Some degree of forgetfulness as we age is normal, but when it starts to interfere with your ability to do the things you have always done such as driving to your local store or cooking your favorite recipe, then it is not normal aging. Think dementia is just for the very old? People in their 40s, 50s and 60s are increasingly developing Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions.

As the baby boomers start to retire and we see record numbers of seniors, the number of people developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will rise significantly. Martha Richardson, Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association believes “We are at a tipping point now. We have the ability to change the course of the disease if we decide it is worth the investment.”

I had the pleasure of meeting with a local couple who have not only learned how to cope with living with dementia, but who have embraced this new journey with the hope of helping others as they find their own path.

Karen Kelly and Dan Bouchard of Burlington are a close and loving couple. They are passionate about raising awareness about dementia issues, particularly early onset. This passion stems from the fact that Karen Kelly has a form of dementia known as Lewy Body. Talking with this couple, you would never know that Karen was living with dementia. She does not fit the stereotype. She is independent, outspoken and has a joy for life. This summa cum laude graduate owned a career counseling business, managed the family finances and was a model of organization until one day when things she once was able to do without thinking suddenly became a challenge. “Depression was the first thing I noticed, then not remembering as much but I thought ‘I am getting older,’ and then things started to get worse,” Karen said.“ I found it hard to get prepared for my clients, and I worried if I was repeating myself.”

Dan started to notice that it took forever for them to leave the house because Karen would forget things and be looking all over the house for them. Then one day Karen handed Dan the checkbook and said she couldn’t do it anymore. “One day she handed me the checkbook, this summa cum laude math major, because it was too much for her,” Dan said. First the diagnosis was pseudo-dementia brought on by depression.

When anti-depressants did not help, the journey for answers continued. After much research and determination, the couple connected with a doctor at Dartmouth -Hitchcock that gave them the news. “It was a relief to know what I had,” Karen said. When they asked about support groups, they got blank stares. So the couple created their own support group by reaching out to The Arbors at Shelburne and Armistead Caregiver Services.

This small group of those living with dementia and their caregivers share the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, and tips on how to cope with a little understood and little talked about medical condition. For Karen, the biggest benefit of the support group is it “makes you feel normal. Everyone in the room understands living with dementia and together they learn how to laugh off some of life’s mishaps. “You never see people so happy to see each other, it is amazing — laughter is a big part of it. These are very impressive people with impressive credentials who are working on acceptance.” According to Dan,“Some people are still working.”

So how do couples live with dementia? For this couple at least, they try to keep things simple and do not have unrealistic expectations. “You wouldn’t expect someone with a broken ankle to run — you can’t try to make someone do something because they used to be able to,” Dan says.

Karen is one of the lucky ones that have responded well to medications and has found the support group a good outlet for accepting her situation. “Karen is an inspiration, her ability to accept and deal with what she has been saddled with. I don’t know how she does it,” Dan says.

Karen and Dan take it one day at a time and work hard to encourage others to seek help at the first sign of trouble. As with many other diseases, early detection is key to effective treatment. According to Dan, “this journey has changed our priority list, it has brought us closer.”

Together they work to make their lives function as well as possible: Karen created a book that has all of the information she needs in one place, including photos with names and phone numbers; she created a purse with a place for all the items she may need;she never leaves the house without her cell phone; she has a whiteboard with lists of things that she plans to do that day; she has a list that she checks off that asks her if she has taken her medication or combed her hair; and she keeps everything in plain view so she can find things. Karen decided to give up driving, but delights in walking the streets of Burlington to grab a cup of coffee or do some shopping. Karen smiles as she talks about how good her life is. “I walk every day. I live in sunny Burlington and I have a great husband.”

Karen and Dan are committed to helping people move forward in their life, and encourage people to turn to the local Alzheimer’s Association for guidance.  “The Alzheimer’s Association is a safe and trusted place to turn for information, understanding and support throughout the continuum of living with dementia,” Richardson says.

For more information on Alzheimer’s or for a support group in your area go to www.alz.org or call 1-800-272-3900. If you want to help raise money for research, services and support for Alzheimer’s patients and their families, participate in the 2011 Walk to End Alzheimer’s (formerly known as the Memory Walk) at locations throughout the state. Visit www.alz.org for more information.

Summer Bounty

You hear it everywhere —Americans are increasingly overweight, diabetic and are eating more processed foods than ever before.

Growing up, most of us had large gardens and had family dinners every night. As you get older and live alone and the family stops coming over every Sunday for dinner, your choices for food may come down to cost and convenience.

Fresh vegetables? Frozen and canned vegetables have become a staple, often cheaper, easier to prepare and with a long shelf life. The downside of convenience is they are not as healthy and not as tasty. Our wild spring weather may have delayed some farmers ability to deliver fresh vegetables, but make no mistake about it soon there will be an abundance of peppers, green tail onions, summer squash, carrots, baby potatoes, fresh cukes and more tempting our eyes and stomachs.

Meals on Wheels and Senior Community Meals are increasingly using fresh produce from local farmers to make sure their meals offer great taste and nutritional value. In fact, the localvore movement, a food industry movement embracing using fresh local produce and products has taken Vermont by storm. Vermont is an agricultural state, but the ease of processed food has made us forget the value and quality that we have available locally.

One fun way to get fresh foods is to spend a Saturday morning stroll through your local farmers’ market. Today’s farmers’ markets offer great produce, a sampling of great food products from salsa to smoothies and offer handcrafted jewelry and art.

According to Mary Carlson, Food & Nutrition Program Director for DCF Economic Services, seniors should consider the “Vermont Farm To Family Program, which provides $30 in coupons to buy fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables and cut herbs at participating farmers markets.”

Last year, over half of those coupons went to Vermonters age sixty or older. About 350 farmers and 63 markets will take part in the 2011 program, with 22 of the markets in the Champlain Valley. Farm To Family coupon distribution lasts until coupon supplies run out. For more information about coupons, call the CVAA Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119.

If you are on a fixed income, you might want to check out 3SquaresVT (formerly known as food stamps). Not only can you use 3SquaresVT year round at your local grocery store, but increasingly you can use your EBT or debit cards at your local farmers’ markets not only for great fresh produce, but also vegetable seeds and vegetable/herb starter plants.
“3SquaresVT is the most responsive safety net program helping people in this recession. Increasing recipients’ access to farmers’ markets will allow them the opportunity to support the state’s agricultural community and to obtain the highest quality foods for their families,” according to Angela Smith-Dieng, 3SquaresVT Advocacy Manager at Hunger Free Vermont. In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets, honey, meats, dairy, and maple products are available using 3SquaresVt benefits.

So now we know how to afford fresh produce, but why is it so much better for your health? If you buy canned or even some frozen vegetables, you are getting an unhealthy dose of sodium and twice as much if you use those canned veggies in one of your recipes and add salt.

According to CVAA Dietician Kathy Backes, the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, while it is recommended if you are 50 and older that you only consume 1,500 milligrams each day.

“Many of us health educators are concerned this may be very hard [goal]to reach… reduced sodium levels can help lower water retention and help prevent, or lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke,” according to Backes.

So this summer do your health, your wallet and your taste buds a favor — eat local and check out these programs to lower your food bill while increasing your wellness.

Sarah Lemnah is Communications Director at CVAA in Essex Junction.

The Study of Happiness

By Sarah Lemnah

What makes you happy? What is the greatest prediction of happiness?

If you look at ads in fashion magazines or flip on the TV you’ll think that happiness must involve a lot of money, the thinnest waistline, and every name brand product you can buy. However, study after study has shown that things do not make you happy, people do. It seems that the relationships we build and things that we do for others are what lights up the pleasure centers in our brains.

Is it true that the younger you are, the happier you are? The answer is no — studies show that many seniors are much happier than their children and grandchildren. According to a recent University of Chicago study, Americans grow happier as they grow older. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every person over the age of 60 is jumping for joy. People that are negative and pessimistic in their youth are not suddenly going to see the world though rose colored glasses, but more seniors than not appreciate their lives.

Some caregivers are starting to do reminiscence therapy. If you encourage seniors to talk about the things in their lives that mattered the most and encourage them to actively list the things they are grateful for, you will find a group of people who are proud of their accomplishments and treasure their memories.

It seems the thing that makes people the happiest is helping others and feeling needed. The freedom to make your own choices and to have something that people depend upon you for will keep some pep in your step. For many people their work or volunteer responsibilities are more important than a big paycheck or a fancy car. Having a purpose to get up in the morning and to accomplish something is an important piece of happiness.
The Harvard Business School did a study where they gave one group of people $20 and told them to spend it on themselves and they gave another group $20 and told them to spend it on others. No surprise that the group that was the happiest had spent the money on others. Another study done at the University of Colorado found that people were the happiest when they spent their money on life experiences instead of possessions. So don’t get the Rolex — spend your money on a trip with family and friends and those memories will get you through the darkest days.

Personal connections are distinctly human. The more time we make for those we love, the more we express those feelings to those closest to us, and the more we make time to stop and notice the little things in life, the happier we tend to be. Focusing on the positive makes you more positive.

Happier people tend to be healthier people and they tend to live longer. Happy people also tend to be married, but it is hard to tell if happy people get married or marriage makes people happy. But researchers agree that people who have close personal relationships tend to be happier, have more self-esteem and feel safer and not so alone. Surprisingly, having children tends to make most people less happy — especially during those trying toddler and teen years — but it seems to level out once they leave the house.

Everything from Time Magazine to a series of books on positive psychology have shown that if you want to be happy,  work on establishing strong ties with family and friends and commit yourself to spend time with those you love. Happiness is as simple as counting your blessings, practicing random acts of kindness, savoring life’s joys (don’t answer the phone or check email when you are playing with your grandchildren, live in the moment), thanking your mentors and the people who have helped you along the way, developing coping strategies, taking care of your body and learning to forgive.

Not every day will be great, but the great make the most of every day!

Sarah Lemnah is Communications Director at CVAA in Essex Junction

Top 10 List for Retirement

By Sarah Lemnah

Well baby boomers, since you are thinking about retirement, let’s go to the top 10 list, as David Letterman would say. Just as nerve wracking as your first job is the day you retire from your long career to a future that seems a little undefined. Can you afford not to work? Are going to go stir crazy after 40 years of thriving on caffeine and deadlines?

The good news is that most people find retirement is an opportunity to reassess their lives and start a new chapter. But before you get the gold watch (does anyone do that anymore?) or go to your big send-off party, consider the top 10 things you need to do.

Money

It seems like everything always comes back to money, but if you are thinking of retiring — meaning that regular paycheck is not coming in — how will you fare? Take a look at your finances. Many people have found their retirement funds have taken a beating in recent years due to the struggling economy. Re-assess what you need to live and consider what you have been able to save.

Social Security

Remember you have to sign up for Social Security benefits; this is the money that you invested during professional career and now it is time for you to draw on that. For those who are living solely on Social Security without pensions or savings, financial planning will be tough — Case Managers at CVAA (the local agency on aging) can help make sure you are signed up for all of the programs and services you need and are eligible for including 3SquaresVT, fuel assistance and subsidized housing.

Insurance

When it comes to insurance, don’t be afraid to ask questions, review your policy and make sure you have the protection you need. The kids are grown; the house is paid off so maybe you don’t need the huge life insurance policy you once did. Long term care insurance may still be an option to help pay for expenses if you develop chronic conditions. Talk to your Human Resource department about your health benefits as you transition out of the workforce.

Medicare

Having a supplemental insurance policy to cover what Medicare does not is a good investment. When you become eligible for Medicare, you need to choose your Medicare Part D plan, i.e. your prescription drug plan. There are many plans to choose from with various fee structures covering a variety of different medications. Medicare.gov can answer some of your questions, but if you need assistance call your local State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-642-5119 to help you through this process.

Your Home

Where do you want to live? Is your home too big or too expensive for you to maintain? There are a large number of housing options. There are senior housing communities that offer amenities often reserved for resorts and spas. Do you want to move somewhere warm or sunny? So many questions…and the answers may change as you age, but this is the time to start thinking about them.

Your health

Talk to your doctor and make sure you are being screened for diseases and conditions appropriate to your age and your risk factors. Catching something early means it is usually treatable. Even the healthiest person can develop health conditions — be pro-active about your health.

Travel

Stop the excuses. If you always said when you retired you would see the world, then do it. If you are on a fixed income, then look for fun things to do and places to explore locally. Be a tourist right here in Vermont, and enjoy the simple things. If your budget allows, spin the globe and pick a spot to explore. Remember there are often special deals for seniors, so do your research.

Explore your dreams

What have you always wanted to do? Take an art class, learn to play the piano, get your degree. Many colleges offer free or reduced tuition for seniors. Explore your bliss and find a new passion in your life. Perhaps it means going back to work in a new field or in a part-time capacity. Have fun exploring the possibilities.

Hobbies

Now you may actually have time to spend on the hobby you enjoy. Perhaps it is gardening, fishing, singing, whatever excites you. If you can’t decide what to pursue, do some research, take a variety of classes and workshops to experiment with different things you are interested in until you find your true passion.

Relationships

Family and friends are a precious commodity. Spend time with those you love, embrace new relationships and re-connect with those that you have distanced. Many couples struggle with retirement. Suddenly your busy spouse is not so busy and is at home underfoot all day. Talk to each other and work through the transition to re-invent your relationship — create a life that works and fulfills both of you.

Thinking about retirement? Then get busy. You have some homework to do — enjoy it!

Sarah Lemnah is Communications Director at CVAA in Essex Junction

Put Down the Snow Shovel, Pick up the Rake

By Sarah Lemnah

Vermonters are a hardy stock accustomed to long cold winters, but this year has been an unrelenting season. Just as the snow melts, more comes. For many it seems like spring will never arrive.

However, we are starting to see longer sunnier days, with warming temperatures, melting snow and a wisp of smoke from your local maple sugar house. Spring is here and now it’s time to form your battle plan to get your garden in shape. Though it might be too early to start planting, it is never too early to start planning.

Spring means that gardening is just around the corner. When the frozen ground begins to thaw and trees begun to bud, Vermonters start to clear brush and prep the land for the growing season. Gardening is a great form of exercise with all of the walking, reaching, and bending. Gardening helps maintain mobility and flexibility. In addition to producing homegrown healthy produce and gorgeous flowers, gardening provides stimulation and reduces stress.

However, as we age or develop injuries and chronic conditions, the simple chores like lifting pots or bending over flower beds may prove to be a little difficult. Difficult does not mean that you should give up the warm weather pleasures of working in the yard. With some simple planning and use of new adaptive equipment, you can continue to garden.
You know the old joke when the patient says to the doctor, “It hurts when I bend my arm like this,” and the doctor replies, “then stop bending your arm?” This same philosophy can help those with various health conditions and mobility challenges continue gardening. If bending over flower beds or constantly getting up and down and kneeling to weed is too difficult, then raise the beds so you don’t have to bend. Or take advantage of new adaptive equipment like the rocker stool to alleviate back and knee pain.

To prevent sun exposure and dehydration, you should garden early in the morning, wear a hat, apply sunscreen, drink plenty of water, wear loose-fitting comfortable clothing, and take frequent breaks in the shade.

Make sure paths are flat and non-slip. Use lightweight tools, such as good quality children’s tools, which are often lighter and more comfortable. Using brightly colored tools can help those with vision problems. Use lightweight plastic containers filled with lightweight potting mix to make lifting pots easier, and buy supplies in smaller packages.

A good source for more tips is www.arthritis.org. The Arthritis Foundation has a product and service directory for senior gardeners.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA.  If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or visit www.cvaa.org

Hoping for the Best, Planning for the Worst

By Sarah Lemnah

Disasters always happen to other people, that thought gives us comfort as we watch images of people around the world dealing with tornadoes, hurricanes, landsides and earthquakes. We watch as people in Buffalo spend days in their cars stranded by snow, and we remember the horrifying images of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

However, here in Vermont we are not immune to our own disasters. Snow and ice storms can take down power lines leaving communities literally in the dark for days at a time. Each spring flooding turns roads into rivers. During an emergency there is often no time to think about how to protect yourself or your family. Planning before the crisis is the best chance you have to ride out the disaster until emergency crews can reach you.

When disaster strikes you are often on your own. Disasters are scary enough but now imagine your life or the life of a loved one relies on medical equipment such as respirators or oxygen. What do you do when the power goes off? The Vermont Agency of Human Services Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living has put together a booklet entitled “Just in Case…be Ready for an Emergency.” This booklet offers useful information and worksheets to help you and your family prepare for an emergency and it also starts the conversation about how to deal with emergencies.

Don’t let the process of planning for an emergency overwhelm you, take it one step at a time. First let’s put together your emergency supply kit. Before every major storm you will see grocery stores full of people stocking up on bottled water and batteries. Don’t wait for the rush, sometimes, such as with flooding, there is no warning that danger is coming your way. Get a backpack or a duffle bag that you can take with you in case you are evacuated and fill it with supplies you will need for you and your family for at least three days. That includes a gallon of water per day for each person in your home, ready to eat canned foods and a manual can opener, high energy foods (peanut butter, crackers, and granola bars), a battery operated radio, flashlights and extra batteries, matches in a waterproof container, first aid kit, sanitation items, extra eyeglasses, extra hearing aid batteries, and a warm blanket or sleeping bag will get you off to a good start. If you have pets or service dogs in your home make sure you plan for them also. After you put together your kit, make sure you keep it up to date. Every 6 months you will want to replace food and water items. Keep a list of medications and prescriptions you will need readily accessible in case of an emergency.

So now you have your kit but that is only one piece of planning. Make sure you have emergency contact information, know all of the exits of your home, talk with family and friends and neighbors about your emergency plans and make sure you work together so everyone can safely maneuver even the worst disaster.

For people with special needs like those in a wheelchair or who rely on medical equipment like oxygen, make sure you talk with the company about alternative ways you can power needed equipment such as battery back-ups and if there are manual equipment options.Talk with your care providers about what you will need in a disaster. For some emergencies you will be advised by authorities to remain home for extended periods of time and for others you may need to evacuate. If you need to evacuate are you able to drive? Many public transportation providers may not be operating during emergencies so make sure you have already talked to neighbors, care providers or relatives living close by about transportation needs in an emergency.

Make sure you keep a list of emergency contacts near the phone. If you rely on medical equipment or have health issues wear a medic alert bracelet. On any medical equipment make sure you have directions on how to use it in case emergency personnel find you unconscious.

No one likes to think that someday they may have to live through a disaster, but planning ahead will enable you and your family to be prepared to weather any storm. Emergencies do not have to be a disasters.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.

Time to Try Tai Chi?

By Sarah Lemnah

On a recent sunny afternoon a group of over 20 people of all ages and walks of life joined together at the O’Brien Community and Wellness Center in Winooski to learn the ancient art of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a graceful series of motions that originally were used for self-defense but are now also used as a defense against the crippling effects of arthritis and other conditions.

CVAA and the Arthritis Foundation are working together to establish dozens of Tai Chi classes around the Champlain Valley to help seniors improve their quality of life while finding a new hobby that brings joy and serenity.

It is hard to describe Tai Chi. At first glance, it is a series of postures and positions the likes of which you have probably never experienced. However, as you watch or better yet participate, you will see that it is an organic series of movements that flow into each other creating a great way to relieve stress. And, it offers many health benefits.

For many seniors, the risk of falling is great. As people age, their muscles get weaker thus leading to falls —  one of the leading causes of emergency room visits. Keeping your muscles strong and increasing your balance and flexibility are key components of healthy aging. Tai Chi delivers on all of these and so much more.
Study after study has shown that Tai Chi can: reduce anxiety and depression; improve balance, flexibility and muscle strength; reduce falls; improve sleep; lower blood pressure; improve cardiovascular fitness; relieve chronic pain; increase energy and flexibility; and improve an overall feeling of well-being. According to one study conducted in Atlanta, Tai Chi decreased the occurrence of falls by 47.5 percent. Not only is this ancient art form good for you, but it is also fun and easy to do. There is no expensive equipment or special clothes required, and everyone of every fitness level can participate and receive the benefits.

Martin Kidder, the Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor, became “addicted to teaching Tai Chi” after his first class. Kidder tells the story of an 80-year old woman in a wheelchair who attended classes. She did not say much and was not able to do all of the exercises so Kidder was concerned about her experience with the program. When he asked her, she said that Tai Chi had a huge impact on her life. For the first time in many years — due to Tai Chi—  she was able to feed herself. Tai Chi “gives (people) some independence back, they feel more comfortable when they go out, more secure because they have better balance and less pain,” according to Kidder.

Kidder knows that Tai Chi “reduces stress, improves balance, flexibility and range of motion.” For people with arthritis, it can reduce joint pain in as little as two months.

This class of 20 was a combination of young and old, male and female, fitness instructors and novices. For Beth Adams, a Matter of Balance instructor, she found the class to be “something new and different.”
Margaret Duffy, Regional Program Director for the Arthritis Foundation, looks forward to Tai Chi being offered in the Champlain Valley. As Duffy noted, “It’s safe, it’s evidence-based, it’s an effective way to help manage symptoms of arthritis pain, stiffening and stress. Tai Chi has a lot of health benefits.”

Call the CVAA Senior HelpLine at 800-642-5119 or go to cvaa.org to find out about Tai Chi classes in your area.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for CVAA. If you have questions on senior issues call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119 or click on cvaa.org.

Travel Discounts May Be Yours for the Asking

By Sarah Lemnah

The temperature outside is beginning to drop and reports of snow are starting to creep into the forecast. Winter is just around the corner and long days with little sunshine are on the horizon. Vermont natives joke that Vermont has two seasons — winter and summer — and summer is two months long. For years, I have joked about the snowbirds heading south each winter to avoid the long, dark, cold wintry weather that descends on Vermont. But as I age, I no longer joke about snowbirds but instead envy their tropical getaways.
There was a time that airlines and hotels tried to entice senior travelers with huge discounts and special clubs offering exclusive benefits. However, as the economy tightened and the travel industry started to weather quarter after quarter of losses, these benefits started to fade away. Everyone is looking for the best deal on their vacations and online sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotwire and more fill the web with enticements of cheap travel packages. Seniors on fixed incomes may find these prices out of their reach and so are looking for options that give them better discounts.

As the boomers are starting to retire and make up a huge portion of potential travelers, and as airlines and hotels are trying to fill their seats and rooms, some companies are reconsidering whether to re-institute senior discounts. It can be worth your time to do a little research — don’t be shy. Sometimes just asking for a discount or if special options for seniors are offered can open the door to savings.

Many cruise lines offer discounts of 10 percent or more, or have reduced deposits for seniors. Cruise lines, like airlines, often do not offer a specific senior rate but rather fluctuate senior savings depending on each individual market. For example, in off-peak times when airlines and cruise ships are struggling to reach capacity, they are more likely to offer a senior discount than during peak seasons when the ships and planes are full of passengers paying full fare. United Airlines offers seniors a chance to join its Silver Wings Plus Travel Club which promotes exclusive travel offers. Air Canada, American Airlines and Continental often offer 10 percent off to senior travelers.

If you have the itch to hit the road, don’t forget trains offer a great way to see the country and Amtrak offers a 15 percent discount to seniors Monday through Thursday. Hotels usually will give at least 10 percent off to mature travelers. Choice Hotels (Clarion Inn, Econo Lodge, Sleep Inn, and Quality Inn) offer 20-30 percent discounts for seniors. Of course, all of these senior rates have different qualifications.

Who is a senior? Do you become a senior at age 62, 60, 55, or even 50? Each business sets their own rules as to who qualifies for senior discounts. So if you are unsure if you qualify, or even if you think there is no way you are old enough for a “senior” discount, think again. It might be worth disclosing your age to every hotel, restaurant, airline and cruise ship to see if you can get a discount.

If money is a major consideration, check to see if your local travel agency knows of any senior excursions. Often there are trips that are designed just for seniors that give you a good bang for your buck. Elderhostels, which function much like youth hostels, are starting to proliferate and offer an economic way for seniors to see the world without paying the high costs associated with expensive hotels.

And once you get to your destination many museums, national parks, recreational activities and restaurants offer senior discounts — if you don’t see a senior price listed, ask for it.

Remember as you plan your getaway that there are some things to consider besides price. Many travel websites such as Expedia allow you to search for accessibility, such as roll-in showers for wheelchair users. When booking airline tickets, think about layover times. Are you comfortable sitting for four hours at a time or would it be easier to have an additional layover, giving you a chance to exit the plane and stretch your legs before continuing on your journey?

Do a little research regarding travel options this winter and don’t forget to ask what discounts might be offered.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging.

Golden Ticket

By Sarah Lemnah

For each candle I add to my birthday cake it seems like I add one more doctor to my health care team. I remember not too long ago having just a primary doctor and a dentist but now I am working my way through every specialized provider in the book. It happens to us all; as we age, we develop more chronic issues and if your family is like mine then you were deemed high risk before the doctor had a chance to swat your behind.

Filling out family medical history forms has always been rather simple for me, check yes to everything. Heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer — you name the ailment and I can find a relative. Because of my family history, doctors have always been predisposed to check me for everything as often as they ca,n monitoring ever change on my blood test and looking for an underlying issue. So far, I have managed to disappoint them and remain fairly health,y but the battle gets worse each day. When I turned 30, bones started to crack and muscles started to ache and when 40 came so came more issues. Is this sounding familiar to you? They say 60 is the new 40 — maybe so, but sometimes even being an active, healthy young 40, 50, or 60 year old feels old.
We all have those days when we feel about 20 years older than the calendar says. My dad always joked that he could do everything but he felt it the next day. Staying out late and pulling all-nighters in college was a rite of passage and a breeze. Now, pulling an all-nighter or staying out late means the next day I am cranky and tired and not much fun to be around.

So we all know if you want to stay active and healthy you need to exercise your mind and body, need to drink more water than seems humanly possible, get plenty of rest and avoid stress. But even if you do everything right, genetics is always there waiting for you. Genetics is not a guarantee that you will develop the same conditions your parents did, but healthy living is no guarantee either. There are always news story about marathon runners who die from a heart attacks.

Taking care of oneself is more than exercise and good diet, though those are certainly both very important. Genetics is not your fate but it does increase the risk. So in addition to living a healthy life, you need to visit your team of health care professionals and make sure they are screening you so problems can be detected and treated early.  I am always amazed at what simple blood work can say about your health. Do you have high cholesterol putting you at greater risk for heart disease or stroke, are you diabetic, is your immune system fully functioning, do you have an infection? The blood test is the roadmap to your health.

The biggest risk factor for many conditions — cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes — is age. The older we get the more at risk we are for developing chronic conditions and so we need to be pro-active and get screened. Most screenings are recommended once you get into your 40s and 50s.

Recently there was much debate when the recommendation for women to get mammograms was pushed back from the age of 40 to 50. Check with your doctor to see what is right for you. Men and women over the age of 50 need to be screened for colorectal cancer, one of the leading causes of deaths but also one that is very treatable when detected early. As you age every doctor you see is going to be looking at you a little more closely from your dentist checking your gums to the ophthalmologist screening for glaucoma. The good news is you still can do everything you always could. Be young at heart, take care of yourself and know that with a little care you will live a long life filled with adventure. Embrace your health care team — they are your golden ticket to your future.

Sarah Lemnah writes on senior issues for the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging.

Green Thumb Therapy: An Ancient Tradition

By Sarah Lemnah

As you drive up to Starr Farm Nursing Center in Burlington you will notice a buzz of activity. Residents are hard at work tending to their garden filled with blooming flowers and fresh vegetables. Donna Covais, a Registered Horticultural Therapist, says plans are also in the works for a Farmer’s Market and designing floral bouquets for residents celebrating birthdays.

It is not a new concept to use plants and nature to help promote well being. Egyptian physicians use to prescribe nature walks for emotionally distressed patients in the Middle Ages. However, for years Western medicine was more focused on prescriptions, medical procedures and physical therapy to combat the medical conditions that come with aging. Now it is becoming more mainstream to look at holistic approaches.

Covais is the only Registered Horticultural Therapist in Vermont. She is heading up a pilot project at Starr Farm using horticulture as a way to help residents complement their care. Covais looks at ways to “use plants to promote physical, social and educational changes in people.”  She has formed small study groups to measure the impact this therapy has on the quality of residents’ lives.

For many residents in a facility there is depression, loneliness and boredom. There is a longing for their old life and gardening may be one of the things that made up that former life. “Flowers and vegetables are the universal language. We want to show that you can live in a nursing facility with a lot of hope,” Covais says.
A series of standing beds makes gardening possible for all. Easy for those in wheelchairs and for those with good mobility, it prevents the backbreaking work of kneeling and bending over to weed. Residents plant, tend and will harvest their work. This sense of purpose is a key to enhancing quality of life.  “People in nursing facilities don’t feel needed anymore — in a facility people are always being helped, “ Covais says.  Horticultural Therapy is designed to enhance feelings of purpose, and Covais is the perfect person to help— she is a master gardener, and is blind. Thus, residents help Covais by finding her tools, telling her what color the flowers are and being her eyes in the sea of colors that defines this young garden. Residents are also needed to tend the garden and help nurture and watch things grow.

Covais knows that this program helps lessen depression, improves motor skills, enhances the quality of life and brings hope and beauty to people’s lives. “Feel the texture of lavender, smell the basil,” she says. For those who used to garden Covais knows this brings a “piece of their life back.”

Third Fridays Feature ‘Supper at Five’

By Sarah Lemnah

The Heineberg Senior and Community Center is a very special place.

Filled with warm people, great food and lots of fun activities, it has been the hub of the north end in Burlington since the 1940s when the community center was built. Each person has their own unique story and many of the people dining there today are second generation — following in the footsteps of their parents.

This is truly a grassroots organization where volunteers serve the food, run programs and provide companionship. For many, having lunch at the Heineberg is a tradition and a valued part of their daily routine.

Heineberg and Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA) work hard to provide nutritious and affordable meals to seniors. For a suggested donation of $3, visitors to the center enjoy chicken & biscuits, baked ham, lasagna and much more.

In addition to regular programs like line dancing, T’ai Chi, Wii, sitting yoga, and bingo, Heineberg developed the “Supper at Five” program. Executive Director Gail Moreau points out that people are “social creatures, we like to get together and have a meal together.” So since last November, seniors have been filling the Heineberg on the third Friday of the month to enjoy this special community supper.

Each month, the Elks Lodge on North Avenue caters the supper for 70 seniors, with a suggested donation of $5 per person. According to regular John Bryant, when he heard the Elks were doing the supper, “we knew the meal would be great.”

Heineberg Senior Center volunteer Rita Bissonette was the one who came up with the idea of having the Elks cater a supper and the idea took off to the point that there is now a waiting list. For Janet Petterson, one unique thing about Supper at Five is that people can bring a bottle of wine to enjoy with their dinner. Supper, unlike lunch, is not a buffet, and is served on “glass dishes and tablecloths, and it brings in people who don’t come to the noon meal,” according to Peterson.

At Supper at Five you’ll see individuals, groups of friends and even some couples on a rare date night enjoying cordon bleu and baked scrod.

As Jeannette Leo remarked, “for the price, I don’t think I could go wrong. The Elks make a great dinner.”
Chuck Smith jokes that he comes for the meal “because I am hungry,” but admits he really comes to “meet other people.”

Making new friends and enjoying each other’s company is a huge draw at the Heineberg. Arlene Woods knows that it is “a great place to come for friends, to laugh and visit and that Gail encourages us to be rowdy.”

Moreau freely admits that she does encourage misbehavior. “If not now, then when?” she laughs.
But there is a serious side to the proceedings. For many seniors, the weekends can be long and lonely, Moreau says. “We don’t serve lunch on Fridays, so sometimes the weekends are long for people. A Friday night social event can combat weekend loneliness.”

If a family is the heart of a home, then the people who attend the Heineberg Senior and Community Center are the heart of the North End Community.

“The best part of my job is the stories. I get to be part of 250 lives,” Moreau says.

For more information about Supper at Five or the upcoming June Barbecue Luau with the George Voland Jazz Band, call 863-3982 or visit www.heinebergcenter.com.

What You Do in Your Sleep Matters

By Sarah Lemnah

Finding yourself a little tired lately, waking up with a headache, or has your partner complained about your snoring yet again? Millions of Americans face this situation every day and most shrug it off.

But a recent study may make some people think twice before they ignore possible fatal symptoms.

Sleep apnea – in which you stop breathing for at least 10 seconds while asleep – affects 12 million Americans and most cases are undiagnosed. Some people may stop breathing as frequently as a hundred times in an hour and often for a minute or longer.

Health professionals have long known that there were serious consequences associated with untreated sleep apnea, such as high blood pressure, weight gain, headaches, memory loss, depression, reflux, nocturia (a need to use the bathroom frequently at night), and impotence. Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of falling asleep during the day, and can affect job performance and increase the likelihood of a motor vehicle accident.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health shows that obstructive sleep apnea is also associated with an increased risk of stroke in older adults, especially men. Men with moderate to severe sleep apnea were nearly three times more likely to have a stroke than men without sleep apnea, or those with mild cases. Women with severe sleep apnea also had an increased stroke risk, but not as dramatic an increase as men.
Loud snoring with periods of silence and gasping for air during sleep is a common symptom of sleep apnea. The brain wakes the person to remind them to start breathing. Though anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, there are risk factors that greatly increase your odds including age, excess weight, a large neck, a recessed chin, being a man, family history, smoking and alcohol use.

So, how do you know if you suffer from sleep apnea? Are you a loud, habitual snorer? Do you feel tired and groggy when you wake up? Are you often sleepy during the day? Are you overweight or do you have a large neck? Do you choke, gasp or hold your breath during sleep? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the American Sleep Apnea Association (www.sleepapnea.org) recommends you see your doctor to discuss it.
Sleep studies that monitor brain waves, and that measure eye and chin movement, heart rate and rhythms, oxygen levels and carbon dioxide levels can help determine if you suffer from sleep apnea. Depending on the severity of the problems, there are many treatments to help lessen or eliminate your symptoms.

Simple solutions that work for some include not sleeping on your back, avoiding alcohol and depressants such as painkillers, sedatives and muscle relaxants, and losing weight. For those suffering from severe sleep apnea, many find relief sleeping with a CPAP (Continued Positive Airway Pressure)device that blows pressurized air at a rate high enough to keep the throat open for easier breathing.

If you think you or someone you know might suffer from sleep apnea, do not ignore it. Make sure your dreams are sweet and your sleep is un-interrupted.

How to Have ‘the Talk’

By Sarah Lemnah

You worry about it for weeks, obsess on it, avoid it, try to get out of it but then you have to just do it, you have to have “the” talk. What is “the” talk? The talk could be talking to your teenager about sex or drugs, the talk could be to your boss about why you deserve a raise, and yes the talk could be to your aging parents about whether they can safely live alone at home or whether their driving days are over. Difficult conversations are easy to put off but can have deadly consequences.

Talking to your parents is always tricky whether you are 13, 30, or 50.

The history of the relationship is the parents are in the ones in charge. But what happens when Dad starts having a series of fender benders and Mom forgets to turn off the burner and is starting small fires in the kitchen?

There is never a perfect time to have “the” talk, and avoiding it only compounds the problem. Conversations about whether your parents can remain in their own home are emotional and present many possible landmines. The goal is to get yourself and your parents on the same page so there is a plan in place to make sure your parents are both well cared for and also as independent as they can safely be. And children may have very different thoughts about their parents’ ability to live on their own.

Gerhild Bjornson, a mediator for the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, sees families every day struggling with issues regarding living arrangements, financial decisions and issues of independence. Her job is to listen and help untangle these emotional conversations so people really hear each other and find common ground.
People are proud and independent and it is difficult for many to ask for help or to be comfortable needing outsiders to come to their home to provide services, Bjornson says.

Whether you are a professional mediator like Bjornson or a concerned family member, the key to moving forward and resolving issues involves lots of listening. Listen to how your parents and your siblings see the situation. What steps can be taken to make the situation provide a better quality of life? You don’t have to solve all of the problems at once. Is Dad ok driving during the day in his neighborhood but agrees to stay off the highways and avoid night driving due to his eyesight? Does Mom decide to start getting meals delivered to avoid the dangers of cooking? It is important that the adult children of aging parents ask their parents how they see the situation. For example, ask your Dad if he thinks he drives as well as he did 10 years ago. He might admit he is not as alert as he once was and doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

Bjornson knows that like anything else this is a process. The first conversation will not be the last – it opens the door and puts the problem front and center. Then people need time to mull it over and really think about it. Bjornson is also very conscious of the fact that some people are quieter than others and may not feel as comfortable voicing their opinions. Bjornson knows her job is to “make sure quieter voices are heard, even if that means meeting with the quieter person alone.”

Don’t dread opening the door to difficult conversations. Conversations that need to happen are a way of protecting loved ones and opening the door to an even closer connection. If families use understanding, active listening, and respect they will find a path to assist their loved ones to be as independent as is safely possible without denying them the right to make decisions about their lives. It is not about getting your parents to do what you think is best. It is about everyone being honest about concerns and how to address them in a way parents will be comfortable with. Everyone does not have to agree on everything.

Dark Days of Winter

By Sarah Lemnah

It is that time of year when it seems like the sun is never going to come back. The days are long, dark and bitter cold and summer seems like a lifetime ago. It is January in Vermont.

For one in 10 of us, it means we have no energy, want to hibernate in our homes or better yet our beds. We have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People who suffer from this seasonal depression due to the lack of sun and an interruption in their sleep patterns are sad indeed.

For some people with SAD, each winter puts them in a tailspin, unable to perform their necessary tasks and to even contemplate suicide. But for most of us who suffer from SAD, is like a bad case of jet lag that starts in September, hits its peak in January, and goes away in the late spring. SAD makes you feel like your batteries are run down, that what used to be fun holds no interest, that sleep trumps everything, and you are moody and crave carbs. The binging on pasta, bread, potatoes and sweets brings on weight gain, which makes you feel worse. Sex drive dwindles and there is never enough sleep to make you feel rested. Concentrating is almost impossible and irritability is a guarantee.

If you can’t afford the time or money to spend part of your winter in a warmer climate, then it is time to take action. Depression of any type can be serious and even those with a mild case of SAD find their quality of life diminished and their relationships impacted.

Don’t let the winter blues turn you into a hibernating bear. Ask for help and take action.

Some simple changes can help combat the symptoms of SAD. Eating a diet high in protein and low in carbs, engaging in regular physical activity, and getting out in the sun (no matter how short its appearance may be) can all help people suffering from SAD start the process of re-charging their batteries. Moderate activity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, along with vigorous activity for 1 ¼ hours a week can help you combat this depression. Moderate activity may be a brisk walk while vigorous activity could be jogging or cross country skiing.

For people more severely impacted by SAD there is counseling, light therapy, and anti-depressants. There are two types of light therapy. One type is bright light treatment where people sit in front of a light box (full spectrum light) for a half hour or longer every day or they use a dawn simulator where a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep and gets brighter over time to simulate sunrise.

The theory is that seasonal affective disorder is a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening daylight hours and lack of sunshine in the winter. As seasons change, there is a shift in your internal clock due to changes in sunlight patterns. The body thinks that when there is no sun that it is night and time to sleep. Vermont and its northern neighbors are hit hard with people suffering from SAD. Snowbirds spending their winters in Florida and other warm locations are much less likely to experience seasonal affective disorder.

If you are feeling sad and tired and just want to spend the day in bed every day, then it is time for you to take the covers off and face it head on. SAD is difficult to live with, but can be treated.

Careful Eye on Your Meds Around Teens During the Holidays

By Sarah Lemnah

The holidays are here and it is the time of year when busy families make extra time for those they love.

During the year, many seniors become isolated as their families scurry about with their busy schedules, but as the Christmas trees go up and the Hanukkah candles are lit families come together.

During the holidays, parents and grandparents should keep a closer eye on their children – making sure they don’t take a sip of wine or sneak into the liquor cabinet. However, the growing danger with teens does not live in the liquor cabinet. It is neatly tucked away in medicine cabinets in prescription bottles from the family doctor. Kids are finding a cheap high can be found in their family’s supply of prescription medications. Many baby boomers and seniors are on prescription drugs ranging from painkillers to heart medication to anti-depressants. These drugs in the hands of a teenager looking to get high can be a fatal.

“There is a pill for every problem today, a pill will cure all,” according to Detective Sergeant Mark Francis of the Vermont State Police. Between 1992 and 2002, the U.S. population grew 13 percent, but the number of prescriptions filled for controlled drugs (those with abuse risks such as morphine) increased by 154 percent. As you look forward to your family returning home for the holidays or pack an overnight bag for a visit to out of state family, it is important to be aware that the medications you are taking can be dangerous to your children and grandchildren – precautions need to be taken.

According to the partnership for a Drug-Free America, nearly 1 in 5 teens report abusing prescription medications to get high. Over 40 percent of teens think that abusing prescription medications is safe or safer than illegal drugs. “Pharming” parties are becoming more prevalent – teens go through their medicine cabinets and bring handfuls of prescription drugs to the parties that are then dumped into a large bowl from which partygoers randomly select pills to take for the purpose of getting high.

According to Sgt. Francis, in 2004 misuse of pharmaceuticals was the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. In recent years, drug-related poisoning deaths have increased 68 percent. According to the Vermont Department of Health, over 20 percent of 11th and 12th graders have used prescription drugs without prescriptions.

Painkillers (OxyContin, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet), stimulants like Ritalin, muscle relaxants, and cough medicine are just some of the hidden dangers in your home. According to Sgt. Francis, 56 percent of people abusing painkillers get their drugs from friends and families, often without their knowledge.

The latest thing, according to Sgt. Francis, is “Roboing,” in which teens are taking an excessive amount of cough medicine containing DXM. Abuse of DXM can cause an out-of-body experience, distortions in color and sound, nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, seizures, psychosis, coma and possible death. Also beware that many children are abusing inhalants, sniffing cleaning supplies, art supplies and solvents to get a high. Inhalant abuse can cause permanent damage to the nerves, lungs, liver and brain. Death can result from one single session of inhalant abuse by a healthy individual.

So make sure this holiday season is a safe one. Keep your medications in their original containers, keep medications out of sight, count your pills frequently so you will know if any are missing, and clean out your medicine cabinet often. If medications have expired or are no longer needed, dispose of them.

Prescription medications are serious and they are designed to help people live better lives, but when mis-used to get quick highs, these medications can be lethal.

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

By Sarah Lemnah

Caregiving is a rewarding role but it is easy to lose sight of yourself and push yourself to the point of no return. As the ranks of seniors swell, so do the stressed out family members who have a reached a state of burn-out that is hard to recover from.

According to Rachel Lee Cummings, owner of Armistead Caregiver Services, by the time most families reach out for her services, they “are in crisis.”

Many family caregivers are the spouses or adult children of seniors in need. People are juggling caregiving with families, jobs and a multitude of other responsibilities. Often, caregiving becomes a 24/7 job with little rest, and falls on one member of a family.

Caregivers are so focused on the care receiver that they often neglect their own health and well being. Separating their roles as a caregiver or as a spouse or child can be difficult. Many caregivers place unreasonable demands on themselves and become frustrated that their hard work and dedication is not changing the decline in their loved one. The lack of sleep and constant worry and stress can lead caregivers down a dark road.

Caregiver burnout is serious; you cannot provide care for someone without taking care of yourself. As Cummings notes, “it is like what they say on the airplane – place the oxygen mask on you before helping others.”

Families and friends should be aware of the signs of burnout, which include withdrawal from loved ones, loss of interest in activities, feeling hopeless, changes in appetite, changes in sleep, getting sick more often, irritability, emotional and physical exhaustion and feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or those that they are caring for.

Many caregivers feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their loved one but they need to do just that or they will be of no use to the care receiver.

Caregivers need to ask for help. Ask family members to share caregiving responsibilities, or have them help pay for professional caregivers to give some respite. Caregivers should make sure they eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep and make sure they do something that they love. Even a few minutes a day of meditation and quiet can help caregivers re-fuel to face another day. It is not a question of right or wrong, but finding a path that will allow both the caregiver and their loved one to have the best quality of life possible, in which good moments are treasured and the bad ones are dealt with.

It is ok to have negative feelings, to be angry. Find people in your life that you can talk to – family and friends or a professional counselor. It is ok to ask for help. It is understandable if the responsibility becomes too much for the caregiver to handle alone. Look into adult day programs and tap into your community for support and help. Support groups are available to caregivers. For more information on caregiver support groups or for assistance , call the Senior HelpLine at 1-800-642-5119.

 

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