Thursday, December 27, 2012

Veteran's Spousal Benefits

On Veteran’s Day, I wrote about Veterans and benefits that are offered through the Veteran’s Administration that vets and their spouses may or may not know about. Thank you to Beth Guilmart, Senior Advocate, for arranging for the Veteran’s Association to again be on hand at The Dale Association to present important information for spouses of veterans; this includes veterans living or deceased. 

FREE Veteran's Spouse Benefit Informative Presentation, January 9th, and April 11th, 2013 from 1:00-3:00 pm at our Centre (33 Ontario St, Lockport, NY). Please RSVP by calling: 716-433-1886.

Guilmart says, “Time and time again, I work with seniors who do not always realize they may qualify for Veteran benefits. More times than not, spouses of deceased veterans think they do not qualify because their husband is deceased; this is not the case.  I think it is important for veterans’ spouses to attend this informational meeting to learn about benefits. Some benefits are overlooked by many families with Veterans or surviving spouses who need additional monies to help care for ailing parents or loved ones.   Coverage and eligibility has changed over the years and veterans, their widows and widowers are encouraged to check on eligibility.  This presentation is the perfect opportunity to learn.” 

  “Wartime Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Benefit” is available to veterans who served during a declared wartime period; their spouses may be eligible, as well; spouses of deceased veterans may also qualify.  The monthly benefits vary depending on monthly cash flow, minus health expenses.  The rent at a senior care facility may be considered a health expense.

Veterans must have served on active duty - but not necessarily in the combat theatre and their discharge from active duty must have been under conditions other than dishonorable.  The Veteran’s Administration recognizes these war periods:

                Mexican Border Period – May 9, 1916 through April 5, 1917, for veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders or in adjacent waters.

                World War I – April 6, 1917 through November 11, 1918 for veterans who served in Russia.  April 6, 1917 through April 1, 1920, extended through July 1, 1921 for veterans who had at least one day of service between April 6, 1917 and November 11, 1918.
                World War II – December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946.

                Korean War – June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955.

                Vietnam War – August 5, 1964 (February 28, 1961 for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964) through May 7, 1975.

                Gulf War – August 2, 1990 through a date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation- still open.

Approval of the application takes approximately 6-9 months, but the benefit is retroactive to the month after the completed application is received by the Veteran’s Administration counselor.  It is imperative that the application is completed accurately and completely to prevent delays.  The following is a list of items you will need before filing an application:

                DD214 or Honorable Discharge
                List of monthly medical expenses
                List of all income – copies of SSA, pension statements, bank statements
                List of all assets
                Copy of Marriage Certificate
                Copy of Death Certificate if surviving spouse is applying

We don’t want our vets, or their widows/widowers to fall through the cracks and loose benefits that they may be eligible for.  There are more benefits than in the past and vets and spouses should check into whether they are eligible.   To register for this free informational presentation on January 9 from 1:00-3:00, please call at 433-1886.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Age Attitudes

There is a sharp contrast between people’s positive attitudes toward growing older and their preparedness, according to the results of a new survey.  The survey reveals that almost three-quarters (72%) of people over the age of 65 do not feel old and 67% still feel healthy.

As perceptions of growing older are overwhelmingly upbeat, people are failing to plan for the potential challenges associated with growing older.  More than one-third of those aged 65+ have made no preparations and only 6% have nominated a family member or caregiver to look after them in their later years.  From a financial perspective, less than one-quarter (22%) of seniors have put aside savings for retirement.

Despite this lack of preparation, people do have worries about the effects of aging.  When respondents over age 65 were asked which disease was most worrisome to them as they got older, dementia was the number one response (37%), ahead of cancer (27%). Across all 12,000 individuals surveyed, losing memory and independence were top concerns.

Alongside these findings, another report reveals that the “informal care network” (families looking after dependent older relatives) is disintegrating while the number of older people in need of care is growing. 

The results of the surveys referenced above were just released; this information validates data from other surveys that reported similar results. With nearly 90 million Americans expected to be over the age of 65 by 2050, the time is now to think about advanced planning, before seniors can no longer do so on their own.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of the Year Thank You!

As the year ends and we celebrate the holidays – I wish each of you a joyous and healthy holiday and a happy new year.  And, on behalf of The Dale Association and all charitable organizations in our community thank you for your kindness and seemingly endless generosity this past year. The end of the year is a good time to look back and reflect on those things we are thankful for. 

I’d like to say thank you to all of the people who have donated time, money, and/or items that support our fundraising efforts – those fundraising efforts help pay for the things we do, and therefore help us fulfill our mission in this community. 

Our mission statement…

            “To provide comprehensive services and coordinate connections for adults in Niagara and neighboring counties with enhance their health and wellness and empower them to strengthen bridges to their communities.”

… it serves as a reminder of the reason The Dale Association exists in this community. And therefore, the reason we do the things we do – it may be supporting older individuals with our senior services… it may be assisting seriously and persistently mentally ill adults achieve mental wellness and to stabilize their emotions… it may be enriching the lives of people through our educational classes and volunteering programs… or it may be supporting caregivers by providing resources that help them be better caregivers …or it may be assisting older adults with vision and/or hearing impairments maintain their independence.

Whatever the service, all focus on believing each person has value and we hope to enhance their potential to live their life to the fullest. 

Regardless what your charity of choice is, it is probably their mission and what they do that you believe in.  Almost certainly, I can speak for all charitable organizations when I say that we are so grateful for the generosity of this community, our community, when it comes to delivering each of our missions. All fundraising activities support programs of charities and as I said above, it is what is accomplished with the money and donation of time that really defines each of our purposes. 

The purpose of fundraising is more than about the money – it’s about the results accomplished by our use of the money.  It is through our donors and volunteer supporters and what they give that enables us to make a difference. Fundraising is at its best when we can match our need for donations with your desire to support organizations that have made a difference in your life or the lives of family and friends. Many non-profit charitable organizations all across the nation rely more and more on fundraising as a means to support their mission and the Dale Association is no different.  You may be astonished to know that we need to raise over $300,000 to continue to serve the adults of this community.

This past year, many of you have supported Dale Association fundraising efforts by making a gift to the Annual Giving Campaign, by pledging at our Dale Hearts and Caring People fund, through general donations, by attending events, by becoming a sponsor, or by making a charitable gift through you estate planning.  The money raised helps us sustain our mission in this community.  To all of you – THANK YOU!   And thank you on behalf of all the charities you support all year long. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Long Term Care Reality

If you are among the millions of Americans over age 60 who are exploring long-term care options, the news is troubling.  The average rates for long-term care service in the United States are continuing to rise, according to a new survey.  MetLife has conducted the survey for 10 consecutive years. 
Long term care is the help someone would need who can no longer perform daily activities such as eating, bathing or dressing. This care can be received at home or in an assisted living facility, adult day care center or a nursing home. Most individuals recognized the need to prepare for the cost of long term care, but were largely unprepared. Many Americans surveyed also wrongly believed they had insurance protection, felt that their savings would be adequate to cover long term care costs, and incorrectly believed that Medicare would cover long term care costs.
Findings show that the average cost of semi-private room in a nursing home rose nearly 4% in 2012, from $214 daily (or $78,110 annually) in 2011, to $222 daily (or $81,030 annually).  During the same time period, basic rates for assisted living facilities went up 2.1% from $3,477 monthly (or $41,724 annually) to $3,550 monthly (or $42600 annually). 

Only rates for home health aides and adult day services remained unchanged year to year. 

The survey finds the five year trend in annual cost for a private room in a nursing home increased an average of 4% per year.  The cost for a semi private room increased nearly as much at 3.8%.  Assisted living costs increased the most during the period, at an annual average of 4.1% annually over the past five years, while the average cost of adult day services rose 2.3%.  The five year average annual cost increase for home health aide services was 1.3%.

Most expensive/ least expensive – for the most part, Oklahoma had the lowest private room nursing rate in 2012, averaging $147 per day.  Texas, with the exception of Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, had the lowest rates for a semi private room in a nursing home at $131 per day.  As in the past, the highest rates were in Alaska, at $687 for a private room and $682 for a semi-private room.  For assisted living communities, Arkansas was found to have the lowest average base rate and Washington, DC had the highest.

According to the Census Bureau, in 2011, 66% of nursing home residents were women.  The median age of residents was 82.6 years.  Over half (56%) of the nursing homes surveyed provide Alzheimer’s or dementia care.

Current estimates indicate the average age of an assisted living resident is 86.4 years old. 

The National Adult Day Services Association estimates there are more than 5,000 adult day centers in the United States serving over 260,000 participants and family caregivers.  More than 75% of those surveyed are open Monday through Friday; 7% are also open on Saturdays and 11% are open seven days a week.

Despite the aging U.S. population with increasing longevity, and spiraling long term care (LTC) costs, according to a different survey of 1,000 people ages 21 to 75 - Americans are less worried today than they were roughly a decade ago about needing and paying for LTC. Long term care is difficult for Americans to think about - in fact, the survey suggests that people are in denial, taking a chance they won't need care or just ignoring the fact that they might.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Depression affects about one in ten older adults and is the leading cause of years of life lost, due to its influence on health and other disabilities.   Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults and increases the risk of death. A recent article indicates that approaches to decrease the prevalence of depression among older adults through broader assessment of other relevant life factors appear promising.

There is some evidence that effective treatment of depression among older adults reduces both symptoms and the risk of recurrence of depression.   Making sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated is important, even if the depression is mild.  Because they're expected to slow down, doctors and family may miss the diagnosis of depression in elderly people, delaying effective treatment. As a result, many seniors find themselves having to cope with symptoms that could otherwise be easily treated.

Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities.  Factors that increase the risk of depression in the elderly include: Being female, unmarried (especially if widowed), stressful life events, and lack of a supportive social network. Having physical conditions like stroke, cancer and dementia further increases that risk. While depression may be an effect of certain health problems, it can also increase a person’s risk of developing other illnesses -- primarily those affecting the immune system, like infections.

Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults and increases the risk of death. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression substantially increased the likelihood of death from those illnesses. Depression also has been associated with increased risk of death following a heart attack.

Making sure that an elderly person you are concerned about is evaluated and treated is an easy way to avoid escalation of symptoms of depression and related health conditions.

The Dale Association's Geriatric Community Mental Health Nurse, Kathleen Kyle, regularly meets with people age 50 and older in Niagara County, who experience depression (and other mental health illnesses). Kathleen is an empathetic listener with knowledge and experience designed to facilitate improved mental health. She links people with the community resources needed. Kathleen's services are provided at no cost and are completely voluntary. To speak confidentially to Kathleen Kyle, call: 716-433-3344, ext. 5.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving!! As we look forward to Thanksgiving later this month and then the holiday season – it is a good time to give thanks to our family and people close to us. I’d like to extend my thanks to all employees, members, volunteers, sponsors, donors and the community who contribute to the success of The Dale Association.

As you plan and prepare for your holiday celebration, please take time to reflect on those things you are thankful for. The holidays are a time when family and friends come together and share memories, laughs and good cheer. Even though the holidays are enjoyable, they can be demanding.  For some, the added stress can lead to emotions that sneak up on you and pull you down when you least expect it. The holidays are not as joyful for some as they are for others.

Maintaining good health throughout stressful times is directly linked to a positive mind set.  Improving your mood need not be time consuming or expensive – try these simple strategies to distract your attention from the hectic pace of life around you and restore the energy you need.

            Make sure you are well rested.  According to the National Institute on Aging, an estimated 30 percent of middle aged Americans don’t get enough sleep.  Factors that can help you get a good night’s sleep are sticking to a regular bedtime, sleeping in a cool and dark room and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after mid-afternoon.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.  Moderate exercise is an activity that leaves you feeling warm, but still able to talk.  And don’t forget routine activities like mopping the floor and raking leaves are considered moderate exercise.

Music has the ability to alter your mood.  If you want to relax, listen to slow, soothing classical music.  To energize yourself, pick something that is faster such as jazz or pop.  Or consider making your own music by playing a musical instrument. 

I’d also like to share some ideas for people who are caring for a loved one with dementia. For families living with a loved one with dementia, the holidays can also be a difficult time.  Caregiving responsibilities layered on top of keeping up with holiday traditions can take its toll on dementia families, especially the caregiver. The person with dementia may also feel a sense of loss during the holidays.  With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can be filled with joy and magical moments to cherish forever.  Some tips for enjoying the holidays.
Adjust your expectations: No one, including yourself, should expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event.
·         Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage
·         Choose holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you
·         Host a small family dinner instead of a throwing a big holiday party. Start a new tradition. Have a potluck dinner where family or friends each bring a dish
·         Consider serving a catered or takeout holiday meal. Many grocery stores and restaurants offer meals to go.

Involve the person in the festivities: There are many manageable activities the person and you can do together, such as:
  • Bake favorite holiday recipes together. The person can stir batter or decorate cookies.
  • Set the table. Avoid centerpieces with candles and artificial fruits and berries that could be mistaken for edible snacks.
  • Talk about events to include in a holiday letter
  • Prepare simple foods such as appetizers
  • Read cards you receive together
  • Look through photo albums or scrapbooks. Reminisce about people in the pictures and past events.
  • Watch a favorite holiday movie
  • Sing favorite carols or read biblical passages
When the person lives in a care facility: A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. Here are some ways to celebrate together:
  • Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud
I hope this helps make the holidays less stressful for families. Again, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Importance of Memory Screenings

Please help spread the word about National Memory Screening Day on November 15, 2012.  Each year the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing optimal care to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, holds National Memory Screening Day.  This event marks the focal point of AFA’s national initiative to promote early detection and intervention for individuals concerned about memory loss as well as to educate the public about successful aging.

Memory screenings make sense for anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia; whose family and friends have noticed changes in them; or who believe they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or a related illness.  Screenings are also appropriate for anyone who does not have a concern right now, but who wants to see how their memory is now and for future comparisons.

Some of the Warning Signs of Dementia Include:
  • Trouble with new memories
  • Relying on memory helpers
  • Trouble finding words
  • Struggling to complete familiar actions
  • Confusion about time, place or people
  • Misplacing familiar objects
  • Onset of new depression or irritability
  • Making bad decisions
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of interest in important responsibilities
  • Seeing or hearing things
  • Expressing false beliefs
It is important to know that the above warning signs may also be indicative of a number of other health issues, including everything from depression to disorientation.  Warning signs may be useful in raising public awareness about Alzheimer’s disease; however, it is not wise to assume that the warning signs automatically mean the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.  

Memory screenings are a significant first step toward finding out if a person may have a memory problem.  A memory screening is a simple and safe evaluation tool that checks memory and other thinking skills. The following questions might help you decide if you should be screened.  If you answer “yes” to any of them, you might benefit from a memory screening.

  • Am I becoming more forgetful?
  • Do I have trouble concentrating?
  • Do I have difficulty performing familiar tasks?
  • Do I have trouble recalling words or names in conversations?
  • Do I sometimes forget where I am or where I am going?
  • Have family or friends told me that I am repeating questions or saying the same thing over and over again?
  • Am I misplacing things more often?
  • Have I become lost when walking or driving?
  • Have my family or friends noticed changes in my mood, behavior, personality, or desire to do things?
If a memory screening indicates possible problems, the person should follow up with a doctor or another health care professional as soon as possible for a complete medical evaluation.  A person’s primary care provider may also recommend seeing a health care professional with expertise, such as a neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist.  Follow up is important to identify the cause of memory problems. 

Some memory problems can be readily treated, such as those caused by a vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. Other memory problems might result from causes that are not currently reversible, such as Alzheimer’s disease.  In general, the earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat one of these conditions.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia illnesses can improve the quality of life. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease can learn more about the disease, including available and emerging medical treatments; get counseling and other social support in the community; address legal, financial and other planning issues; and have more of a say in decision making.  Caregivers and other family members can take advantage of community services, which can help them feel better – physically and emotionally.  They can discuss treatment, future care and other issues with their loved one, rather than having to make decisions on their own.

To participate in Memory Screening Day in Lockport, call The Dale Association at 433-1886 to schedule an appointment for a free, confidential memory screening. Appointments are now being scheduled for times between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Memory Screening Tool

Most people with dementia remain undiagnosed by their primary care providers, and families often fail to recognize the significance of early cognitive symptoms.  In response, there has been a growing interest in screenings for memory problems. 

National Memory Screening Day is an annual initiative spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), in collaboration with community organizations that promotes early detection of memory problems as well as Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses, and encourages appropriate intervention.  By popular demand, The Dale Association is again participating in a day of confidential memory screenings, as well as follow-up resources and information about dementia and successful aging.

Memory screenings make sense for anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia; whose family and friends have noticed changes in them; or who believe they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or a related illness.  Screenings are also appropriate for anyone who does not have a concern right now, but who wants to see how their memory is now and for future comparisons.

These screenings are not a diagnosis, but can suggest whether a medical evaluation would be beneficial.  Extensive study has indicated that these screenings are of value to individuals who participate in them. Unfortunately, with an issue as sensitive as Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses, there is often misinformation.  AFA has provided us with some facts to address some of the more common misconceptions about memory screening and National Memory Screening Day.  AFA believes that all individuals should be empowered to make informed decisions to better manage their own health, not discouraged from screening based on misinformation. Memory screenings are a significant first step toward finding out if a person may have a memory problem.  Memory problems could be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other medical conditions.

The memory screening tests made available to participating sites (including The Dale Association) are validated for effectiveness.  It is important to keep in mind that NO medical test, whether for screening or for diagnosis, is 100% accurate and any test can produce “false positive” or “false negative” results.  However, the memory screening test that AFA provides for National Memory Screening Day demonstrates 80 – 90% or higher probability of true positives and probability of true negatives in reviewed studies – similar to other established screening tests such as a mammography and Pap smear. 

The face-to-face screening takes place in a private setting.  The person who administers the screening reviews the results with the person who is screened, and suggests that those with abnormal scores and those with normal scores but who still have concerns follow up with a physician or other healthcare professional.  The person who is screened receives the screening results to bring to his or her healthcare professional, as well as materials with information about memory issues and questions to ask healthcare professionals.  Information about successful aging, including the benefits of proper diet, physical exercise, mental stimulation, socialization and stress management will also be available.

Please help spread the word about Memory Screening Day on November 15, 2012 from 1 – 4 pm. Appointments are now being accepted for a free memory screening; please call 433-1886 to reserve your spot.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Helpful Hints When Help Is Needed At Home

Over 44 million Americans spend time caring for family members or friends who can no longer live on their own without assistance.  Family caregivers often find themselves juggling caregiving with work and other family responsibilities.  Paid care may be needed to supplement the care they are providing and help their loved one to continue to live at home. Today, I am including some helpful hints, if care is needed at home.

Some key considerations include: Assessing your family member’s needs, seek the advice of a professional if needed, selecting a care provider, make sure to check references, make sure the care provider is aware of any special care needs, monitor the care, intervene if problems arise and have key contact and emergency information in an accessible location. A further explanation of each of these important steps follow.

Assess your family member’s needs: The first step in any caregiving situation is determining what kind of care is needed.  Does your family member need help with bathing, dressing, and other hands-on care and/or activities such as shopping and cleaning?  Does he or she have cognitive problems that pose a safety risk?  Will your family member accept help?  These and other questions need to be addressed.  Always remember, it is important to involve your family member in care planning discussions and decisions at each step along the way if he or she is able to participate.

Seek the advice of a professional if needed: Don’t be afraid to enlist the assistance of a professional.  You can access the Eldercare Locator, a free publication service from the U.S. Administration on Aging at or by phone at 1-800-677-1116 to assist in finding resources in your local area.  You may also visit the website for the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at to find a care manager.  This is a professional who specializes in long-term care and can assist in evaluating needs and locating services.

Selecting a care provider: Help at home may come from a variety of sources depending on you family member’s needs.  A home care agency that includes services ranging from companion care to personal care may work best when your family member needs help with daily activities such as bathing and dressing and assistance with household chores.  Your loved one may not require hands-on assistance and you might select an agency whose staff can assist with shopping, laundry, and similar tasks.  You may also choose to hire an independent care provider.  In making your selection, cost, staff availability and needed staff skills will all factor into your decision.

Make sure to check references:  Whichever option you choose, it is important that you check credentials.  If the service comes through an agency, find out what kind of background check they do when hiring staff.  If you are hiring and independent provider, it is very important to do a background check, obtain references and perform an on site interview.  Remember, if you are hiring an independent person, you will have full responsibility for supervising the care.

Make sure the care provider is aware of any special care needs: Whether or not the agency provides supervision, you should make certain that supervisors and direct care providers are aware of any likes and dislikes your family member may have, any special precautions such as allergies, or safety concerns that require attention as well as his or her medications and their potential side effects.  Write down the important information and revise it as changes occur so that all caregivers, even substitutes, can refer to it.  Never assume that information has been transferred from one person to another.

Monitor the care: Ongoing monitoring of the care is essential.  It is important to keep in touch with care providers, both those who are providing the day-to-day direct care and the supervisors who are monitoring the care.  Try to visit at various times of day, unannounced on occasion, especially when the care provider is new.  Speak with your family member about how things are going.  Observe for changes in his or her mood or behavior that may indicate that a problem exists.  If you live at a distance or are unable to monitor the care yourself, you may want to hire a geriatric care manager to assume those responsibilities.  Close monitoring is especially important if you have an independent provider.

Intervene if problems arise: If you are concerned about the care your loved one is receiving or have questions, do not hesitate to contact the supervisor if the care is through an agency.  Whatever the situation, it is important to address it early on.  Remember that quality care for your family member is the first priority.

Have key contact and emergency information in an accessible location:  It is important that written information is available in your family member’s home in the event of an emergency, including your family member’s preferred hospital, and contact information for you, a second family member, and his or her physician(s).  Have available a current list of your family member’s medical problems, allergies and medications, as well as copies of insurance cards, living will or health care power-of-attorney documents should he or she need to go to the hospital.  Write out directions to the home to easily direct emergency service providers.  All of this is key to assuring your family member receives the best treatment possible.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Medicare Changes in 2013

This week, millions of people will receive notice that Medicare's annual open
enrollment period is approaching. That means it's time to review their current coverage and
decide if they would benefit from switching plans for 2013.

During the Medicare annual enrollment period -- Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 -- all Medicare
beneficiaries may change their Medicare coverage for the coming year. This includes
anyone using traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage and prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage participants should review 2013 plan changes as soon as they receive information from their providers. Changes could include costs such as premiums, deductibles and co-pays, as well as changes to covered procedures, tests and other provisions. Some plans may be eliminated, requiring enrollees to choose a new plan for 2013 or default to traditional Medicare Part B. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans continues to increase, with 10 percent more Medicare beneficiaries choosing these plans for 2012 compared to 2011.

Medicare beneficiaries should receive their Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC) from their existing Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plan providers by Sept. 30.  Take time to review the information you receive and look at all of your Medicare options; you may find more affordable coverage through a different combination of plans -- whether Medicare Advantage or traditional Medicare with Part D and Medigap plans. Keep in mind that you may see a lot of ads for Medicare plans, but there could be a plan that's perfect for you that isn't getting a lot of attention with ads and mailers.

Locally, a free “Understanding Medicare Plan Choices for 2013” is being held on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:00 am at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario Street, Lockport.  Representatives from Niagara County Office for the Aging, NYS EPIC and Medicare Advantage Representatives will be present to provide enrollment information, assistance and to answer questions. 

Information will be available about: changes to the Medicare Plans, enrollment updates, NYS EPIC, Medicare Part D, and the “extra help” subsidy program. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Centenarian's: A Celebration and Retrospective

A centenarian is a person who lives to or beyond the age of 100 years. Because current average life expectancy is less than 100, the term is associated with longevity.  The United States currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation, estimated at 70,490 (as of September 2010).  This corresponds to one centenarian per 4,400 people, nationally.

In many countries, people receive a gift or congratulations on their 100th birthday. In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from the President congratulating them for their longevity.  Niagara County has identified approximately 50 centenarians who will be invited to one of several celebrations that will be taking place around the county during October and November 2012.

According to Glenda Reardon, Registered Dietician and Nutrition Coordinator for Niagara County Office for the Aging, “The public is welcome to help celebrate the 100 plus year olds in Niagara County.  The Niagara County Office for the Aging supports the nutrition needs of older adults and it is always amazing to me to see how good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and supportive family and community contribute to the successful aging of older adults.”  She goes on to say, “We have 50 people that have been identified in Niagara County that will celebrate reaching the 100 year milestone.  If any other Niagara County residents have reached age 100 or more and did not receive an invitation, I hope they will contact me so we can include them in the celebration.”

Several lunchtime events have been scheduled at various locations across the county.

October 1, 2012 –             Tuscarora Nation House
                                                 5226 Walmore Rd.
                                                Lewiston, NY

October 2, 2012 -              Lewiston Senior Center
                                                4261 Lower River Rd.
                                                Youngstown, NY

October 3, 2012 -              The Dale Association
                                                33 Ontario St.
                                                Lockport, NY  14094

November 1, 2012 -        North Tonawanda Senior Center
                                                110 Goundry St.
                                                North Tonawanda, NY 

November 8, 2012 -        John Dukes Senior Center
                                                1201 Hyde Park Blvd.
                                                Niagara Falls, NY 

At each site, a special program and presentation of a proclamation will take place from 11:30am – noon.  Lunch will be served at 12:00.  Various representatives will be on hand to commemorate the individuals in attendance.  Transportation is available, if needed.  Advance reservations are needed and can be made by calling Glenda Reardon, Niagara County Office for the Aging Registered Dietician and Nutrition Coordinator at 438-4030.

Many things have happened in the last 100 years that have helped shape the lives of generations since then.  100 years ago:

*People lived a much shorter life; average life expectancy in US was approximately 51 years.

*The car began to change the way people live.  Ford’s Model T was being mass produced.

*The first electric self starter for automobiles was introduced; it was no longer necessary to crank start the car.

*Women were not yet allowed to vote.

*The radio started becoming a major communication tool.  The Titanic would be the first ship to send a radio SOS before it sank in April 1912.

*Purer food and safer drug laws began making life healthier for everybody. 

*United States Public Health Service is established.

*Zippers in clothing first appeared.

What a difference 100 years makes.  It would be interesting to know what the guests of honor and their families remember and like to reminisce about.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cocoa for brain health

A new study hints that regular consumption of cocoa might improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment, perhaps by improving glucose-insulin metabolism.
"Given the global rise in cognitive disorders due to the 'graying' of populations in Western countries, our findings provide encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa could represent a fascinating new tool for preserving/improving cognitive function" lead author of the study said. 

These findings are intriguing. "There is great interest in identifying nutritional factors that could potentially delay or prevent conversion of mild cognitive impairment to dementia," according to a national spokesperson for the American Society of Nutrition, who was not involved in the study.  What makes this study novel, she said, is that it is a randomized controlled trial, it employed well-known cognitive tests, and it used 3 levels of cocoa: low, medium, and high.

Based on prior studies, intake of cocoa may be associated with a decreased risk for incident dementia, a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment, and better cognitive evolution over 10 years in aging adults, the authors note.

To investigate further, 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment were recruited  into the Cocoa, Cognition and Aging study. They were randomly assigned to consume once daily for 8 weeks a drink containing 1 of 3 levels of cocoa.  Overall compliance was good — 99.6% at week 4 and 99.4% at week 8, with no between-group differences.  The team assessed cognitive function.  

These are intriguing findings that should be followed up with additional research studies to confirm these findings for cocoa.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Brain Study: Super Agers

They’re age 80 and older, yet they have the memory and brain power of people in their 50s. So what’s their secret? 

That’s what researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are trying to figure out. A new study found that this elite group of elderly — or SuperAgers, as researchers call them — have brains that appear as young as people in the prime of middle-age. In fact, one brain region of this SuperAger group was even bigger and healthier than a person’s in midlife.

The senior study author wanted to know what was different about the brains of people in their 80s who were super-sharp cognitively. For the study, participants in their 80s and older were screened.  Only 10 percent of those who considered themselves to have “outstanding memories,” made the cut.  Eventually, 12 SuperAgers, plus a control group of 10 normally aging adults with an average age of 83, were chosen, as well as 14 middle-aged participants, average age 58.

Looking at three-dimensional MRI scans, researchers were surprised by the remarkable appearance of the SuperAgers’ cortex – that is the portion of the brain responsible for memory, attention and other thinking abilities. While the cortex had begun to thin among normally aging people in their 80s, the SuperAger group had a thick, healthy cortex similar to adults 20 or 30 years younger. Plus, in another brain region important for memory, the SuperAgers’ was actually thicker than those age 50 to 65.

Researchers’ ultimate goal is to unlock the secret behind why some people are protected against the deterioration of memory and diminished brain cells that typically accompanies aging. She hopes her discoveries can help protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer’s disease.
Many scientists study what’s wrong with the brain, but maybe we can ultimately help Alzheimer’s patients by figuring out what goes right in the brains of SuperAgers. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Special Volunteer

What is an Ombudsman?  Ombudsman means “citizen representative” and is a very special person who is a volunteer advocate for residents of long-term care facilities.  Good Ombudsmen are compassionate through and through, are good listeners and communicators that bridge the interaction between residents of nursing/ adult homes with facility staff, and show concern about the residents’ care.  They are available to nursing/adult home residents to help those residents.  

I’d like to dedicate this article to all of the extraordinary Ombudsmen who exemplify the dedication and caring we look for in our volunteers.  In Niagara County, Ombudsmen serve 15 facilities as advocates for residents of long-term care facilities. Ombudsman is a Swedish word for “mediator”. Responsibilities of an Ombudsman include advocating for residents and their families in resolving problems or complaints, monitoring the residents’ quality of care, helping protect residents’ rights and assuring safety and fair treatment with dignity and respect.  New York State’s Long-term Care Ombudsman program is sponsored in Niagara County by The Dale Association and helps approximately 2300 residents county-wide.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting most of the volunteer Ombudsman; as volunteers, they are an extension of The Dale Association and I am honored to have such a wonderful group of people helping support The Dale’s mission in our community.  We greatly appreciate our Ombudsmen and the wonderful, caring support they provide.

Volunteers are the heart of our services at The Dale Association.  One of the most visible volunteer opportunities is that of a long-term care Ombudsman.  If you are looking for a volunteer experience where you can have a direct impact on the quality of life for people in long-term care facilities, consider becoming a Niagara County Ombudsman.  As a trained Ombudsman, you can have a positive impact on the quality of the residents’ lives, in as little as four hours a week and you’ll set your own hours. Ongoing support and assistance are provided to all volunteers.  The next training session starts October 1st. If you are at least 21 years old and interested in learning more about how to become a Niagara County Ombudsman, please contact Nancy Smith at 433-3344, ext 1.

This is a volunteer experience for compassionate people with good communication skills and a willingness to be of service to the elderly. It is both rewarding and meaningful. Funding for the Ombudsman Program is provided by New York State and the Niagara County Office for the Aging and administered by The Dale Association, Inc.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Caregiver Coping

Today’s column is from a caregiver’s perspective.  The strategies are written from a caregiver’s experience in an attempt to live a balanced life – juggling work, commitment to children and grandchildren, and an ill spouse.  Already stressed to the max, adding compassionate caregiving demands an incredibly difficult balancing act. The following coping strategies may help. Because caregiving is such a universal task, faced by nearly all of us at one time or another, I hope you find these strategies helpful as well.
Be clear about today’s reality. Don’t imagine things are worse than they are. Enjoy the good parts of today and don’t let worries for tomorrow take over your emotions and thoughts.
Talk honestly to family and friends. Honest, frequent communication with close family and friends from the start of diagnosis is much easier than trying to play catch-up later.
Expect and prepare for tough talks. Family and friends process the news about a serious illness at their own pace. They will not accept the reality of the illness on a schedule that meshes with yours. This means that sometimes family and friends will not understand the tension of your caregiving lifestyle, especially at first. This requires a difficult conversation about what the illness is, how it will be treated, and what kinds of side effects will be expected from the treatment and the disease itself
Learn the medical lingo. It will help you as a caregiver and a medical advocate to learn the lingo surrounding your loved one’s illness. The Internet is a helpful resource, but you need to learn what Web sites can be trusted.  Even with a trusted Web site, don’t believe everything you read. Not all information will pertain to your loved one’s situation and you can worry yourself into a frenzy over some Internet information you have read. Ask questions of the doctors and nurses. Check the accuracy of your information if you are at all troubled or in doubt.
During treatment, pain or pain medication might do some talking. Be aware that pain, stress and pain medications will release the patient from their social “filter” and they can and probably will say some interesting and difficult things at times. Actually, caregivers do this, too, as stress lifts our social filters at unexpected times—forgive yourself as well when this happens. Listen and be compassionate as best you can. Children and teenagers will need help understanding the changes in their loved one’s personality, especially to know that the changes are not permanent.
Control what you can control. Lots of articles about stress-management advise letting go of control; however, I have found that being in control of some areas helps to greatly reduces stress.  For example –
Get help with housework or yard work—paid or unpaid. Help with household chores or yard work can help make your home a sanctuary. 
 Prepare meals in advance and freeze them.
Keep bills and insurance paperwork organized so there are fewer financial surprises. Make necessary phone calls to insurance companies, and pay bills, or call to arrange payments, on time.
Do three things every evening before you go to bed—laundry, dishes and take out the garbage. The morning will be much more of a gift.
You may find other things that give you a sense of control and therefore help reduce stress.
Let go of what you cannot control. – Easier said than done, but important for keeping stress to a minimum.
Nest  Everyone, especially people who are recovering from illness or injury and their caregiver, needs a comfy chair—a place to relax and rejuvenate. Make a comfortable nest for your loved one and for yourself by adding afghans, pillows, fresh flowers, candles, books and great music to your comfy chair area. This is important to do both at your home and at the hospital should there be an extended stay there.
Make comfort food. Think about what your patient is hungry for, and then consider the details—digestibility, comfort, correct textures, temperature and presentation.
Enjoy life today. Remember, your loved one is a person with interests, not just a patient. And, as a caregiver, you are a person with interests; not just a patient’s caregiver.
Take good care of yourself. Eat good food, exercise a little, rest well and learn to say no to outside demands.
Release yourself from expectations for perfection. As humans, we all experience finitude when we do not have infinite energy, wisdom or capabilities to manage our lives. This is normal. Get through each day as best you can, and don’t dwell on mistakes.

I hope these strategies work to help you both in your caregiving work and in reducing the stress that comes from this part of life’s journey.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Social Capital

Social networks have been shown to influence well-being in many ways. For example, a large, diverse social network can provide access to social support and a wide range of opportunities and resources. At the same time, stressful social relationships can be a source of anxiety or conflict. Social networks high in “social capital” - that is, the economic and other resources made available through social ties - have been shown to have health benefits in older adults, though the exact mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear. In a recent study, researchers used data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project to examine the relationship between social networks and well-being.

The study participants were at least 65 years of age, were administered in-depth interviews in their homes, and completed follow-up questionnaires. Using the data, the researchers classified participants as belonging to one of five different network types: Family, Friends, Diverse, Congregant, or Restricted.

Family - having connections primarily within family networks
Friends - having many ties outside of the family and few or none with family
Diverse - having ties to multiple individuals both inside and outside of their families
Congregant - with most social ties being members of the same church
Restricted - with minimal social connections

Of these, friends, diverse, and congregant types had a high degree of “social capital”, while family and restricted networks tended to be lower in “social capital”.

The researchers also assessed to what extent each participant experienced loneliness, which in previous research has been associated with a higher likelihood unhealthy or sedentary behavior among older adults. They hypothesized that loneliness might undermine the likelihood of engaging in healthy behavior.
Future research will help determine whether there is a causal relationship between social networks and health behavior, or whether one’s health behaviors have an influence on the shape of one’s social networks.