Tag Archives: series

Senior Centers Visiting

Vantage Point: Senior Centers Offer More Than You Think

In my role at Health Alliance Medicare, I’ve had the pleasure to work with senior centers in Chelan, Grant, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

The word “center” means a source of influence, action or force. The first senior center started in New York in 1943 to provide education and recreation. Today’s senior center is an oasis, providing familiarity in an ever-changing world for long-time members, while carefully evolving to attract the new energy and ideas of those aging in.

The senior centers I visit are very different. Some are limited on space. Others boast grand dining and dance halls. Some are open select days. Others host a full calendar of events.

Still, they all have people who go above and beyond to make life better—either working as staff or volunteering. It is remarkable how in even the smallest towns, senior center members share meals, dance or play cards. Gathering fills the centers’ walls with a camaraderie that is authentic and intoxicating.

Through senior centers visits, I have met those with cool confidence that only comes from experience. I have felt privileged to shake the hands of veterans from every branch of the military. I met a farmer turned cowboy poet. I enjoyed wonderful lunches with even more flavorful stories. I even met “Elvis” during one event—but was more inspired by the women who helped their friend dance without the use of her walker.

Before my visits, it is fair to say I had an old-fashioned idea of senior centers.

I realize now they are as diverse as the people who frequent them. Senior centers provide a space where everyday moments bring a sense of purpose, fulfillment and harmony. All share a common goal of helping people age gracefully and independently.

I believe they hold our communities’ richest treasures.

The challenge is getting people to overcome perceptions and walk through the door. If you take those first steps, you might find a room full of friends you just hadn’t met yet.

The Right Kind of Falling in the Winter

Long View: Don’t Let Falling Lead You Down a Slippery Slope

Our central Illinois weather definitely challenged us this winter. Slippery conditions are my least favorite. I took a tumble in a local grocery store parking lot and “fortunately” there were plenty of spectators to help me up. I am guessing it was on camera, too.

For some of our older friends and family members, the potential for falling is not based on the weather, but a year-round concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall.”

Sobering statistics, to say the least.

This year, Health Alliance Medicare, with Catholic Charities of Decatur, St. Mary’s Hospital, and the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging (ECIAAA), is supporting a program called A Matter of Balance. This evidence-based program helps people learn to avoid falls and teaches them how to increase strength and enhance balance.

Mike O’Donnell, ECIAAA executive director, reviewed the training materials and told me, “Older adults at risk of falling often fear injury, a broken hip and having to be in a nursing home. This program encourages us to reduce the risk of falling by using sensible safeguards. We can all choose not to allow fear of falling to take over our lives by using good judgment and common sense. The fear of falling can often lead to isolation and feeling out of touch.”

Specially trained volunteer coaches lead the eight, 2-hour classes that make up the program. The classes involve group discussion, problem solving, skill building, video tapes, and exercise training. A physical therapist attends one of the classes to answer questions and discuss safety issues.

Now that I think about it, this kind of training wouldn’t hurt any of us. As usual, prevention is the best course.

The program is open to anyone, whether you’d like to learn for yourself or to better help others.

If this seems like a good idea, please contact Nicole Kirlin at Catholic Charities of Decatur at 217-428-0013, or by email at Kirlin_dec@cc.dio.org. She would be happy to talk with you and let you know if A Matter of Balance is available in your area.

I had every intention of signing up myself. I guess it must have slipped my mind. I won’t make that mistake again!

Helping Heart Disease

Vantage Point: Walk to Mend Hearts

As a child, I folded and cut red, heart-shaped Valentine’s Day cards. As a teenager, I experienced my first broken heart. And as adults, we learn the importance of taking care of our hearts by eating right, exercising, and avoiding damaging habits, like smoking, to avoid heart disease.

Heart disease, a disorder of the heart and blood vessels, affects people of all ages and is the number one killer of women. You should also know about atrial fibrillation (AFib) and stroke. AFib is where upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, causing dizziness, fainting and a racing, pounding sensation. Stroke is a brain attack that occurs when blood clots block an artery or blood vessel, interrupting blood flow to the brain. People with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke.

People diagnosed with heart problems may feel overwhelmed, anxious, and afraid, opening the door for depression. That’s where Greater Wenatchee Mended Hearts, a volunteer peer-to-peer support organization, comes in to inspire hope through people who are heart patients themselves. I recently had the privilege to attend one of Mended Hearts’ monthly meetings. The room was buzzing with encouragement. Mended Hearts also hosts educational speakers and sends monthly newsletters full of valuable information about heart disease.

One of the most valuable aspects of Mended Hearts is its Heart Patient Visiting Room program that lets heart patients meet other people who have gone through or are going through the same thing. Natalie Noyd, director of the cardiovascular service line at Confluence Health, says peer support coming from someone who has walked the walk helps heart disease patients feel they can get through the experience and aids the overall recovery process. Confluence Health and Mended Hearts work together, mutually spreading heart disease awareness and education, and helping patients, throughout North Central Washington.

Health Alliance provides therapy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and also offers rehab and testing. Sometimes heart disease runs in the family, so creating habits to help prevent the disease becomes extra important for people with a family history of heart problems. Health Alliance encourages you to learn more by joining the Go Red for Women Heart & Sole Walk on February 6 in various locations throughout Wenatchee.

Walks will also take place at Confluence Health Clinics in Omak and Moses Lake. To learn more about Mended Hearts, call Ann at 509-679-8181 or email mendedhearts91@frontier.com.

Your Home's Thermostat

Long View: No One Wins in Thermostat Wars

When I was little, I loved visiting my grandparents in the winter. There was always lots of snow, and my siblings, cousins and I would play outside for hours. Our folks would slap a stocking cap on our heads with a pair of woolen mittens and any available coat. Then off we would go. The cold didn’t even bother me then. We usually came in when our cheeks and fingers were numb, but not before.

Things have changed, to say the least. I now own every thermal article of clothing known to mankind. If it’s cold enough, I have been known to wear gloves to get the mail, and the letter box is on my front porch. Winter weather is no longer the joyful playground of my youth.

My grandmother lived with my aunt and cousin until she was in her 90s. I remember the “thermostat wars” every winter. Grandma was never warm enough and would flip the thermostat up to 85. My aunt would be “roasting to death,” as she would say, and turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees. They went back and forth until spring.

So what happens to transform cold-tolerant kids into shivering adults? Dr. Stephen Belgrave is a medical director at Health Alliance Medicare and a family practice physician. He puts it this way.

“Peripheral vascular disease affects many of our older patients,” he said. “This can slow circulation, and this often affects temperature sensations. It’s important to protect older people from extremes in temperature because of these types of sensory deficits.”

Ah, there you have it. It seems I now qualify as an “older patient.” But the question is how can caregivers help their mature friends and family members?

Here are a few suggestions:

• Be more tolerant when someone complains about being uncomfortable. Even if you think the temperature is cozy, that may not be true for older people.

• Make sure your loved ones have protection from the cold when they go outside. Check and see if they have a cold weather emergency kit in their car. If they don’t have one, it makes a great gift.

• Offer rides (in your preheated car) to the store, appointments and errands during colder months. Removing snow and warming up a car can be a serious hurdle to older adults and people with peripheral vascular disease.

• Finally, find a comfortable, temperate middle ground. Do not engage in “thermostat” wars. I can say from personal experience no one ever wins.

*This piece first ran in 2009.

Remembering with Alzheimer’s

Vantage Point: Sometimes Behavior is not a Problem, it is a Message

My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s over 15 years ago. I still remember my family’s denial. We couldn’t agree on her course of care, and it cut like a knife when she no longer recognized us.

Alzheimer’s is the third-leading cause of death in Washington. Yet current resources are treating less than five percent of those suffering. Recently, I attended an excellent presentation by Bob LeRoy of the Inland Northwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Bob provided some staggering data which showed in comparison to diseases like diabetes, cancer, and HIV, Alzheimer’s receives the least funding for research. Yet it has grown the most drastically.

Nationally, more than five million people live with Alzheimer’s. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, that number will grow quickly. Alzheimer’s has become the most expensive disease to treat in America and yet still lacks resources for support. Most caregivers of those diagnosed are unpaid family members.

Sadly, since my grandma’s time there have not been major strides in awareness, education or advocacy. But there are those trailblazing a path of hope. The Inland Northwest Alzheimer’s Association has a vision of a world without Alzheimer’s, where through research they can provide and enhance care to support all affected and reduce the risk of dementia through promoting brain health. Current resources include:

• Online workshops – Know the Ten Warning Signs
• Alzheimer’s Navigator – Help creating custom plans
• Community Resource Finder
• ALZ Connect – Networking with others who care for people with dementia
• Care Team Calendar – For coordination of responsibilities among family and friends
• Safety Center – Information and resources for safety in and out of the home

Find these resources at ALZ.org, or you may call 800-272-3900 for a 24/7 helpline.

Want to get involved? ALZ.org can help you find information on a 2014 Walk to End Alzheimer’s event in your area. In Douglas County, it’s a good idea to register your loved one on the Vulnerable Persons Register to help emergency responders assist and better meet their special needs. Find more.

Health Alliance Medicare encourages its members to take advantage of their comprehensive wellness benefits and in doing so hopes any signs of dementia can be identified early.  Until there is a cure taking action can help ease the pain of Alzheimer’s, both those for those who cope with the disease and those who care for them.