Maryland Aging in Community

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More Vitality with Exercise- much more than a New Years Resolution

            Living with maximum independence requires a strong commitment to your own health. Village leaders know this truth. Village members and those who wish to Age in place need to pay attention to taking very good care of themselves. We know that loneliness and social isolation are not healthy behaviors, so most “aging in community programs” design ways to foster connections, gatherings, personal visits. Leaders help support and encourage members about making home a safe, accessible place, offer guidance for planning ahead with family and friends about end of life decision-making, and with taking responsibility for maintaining strength and fitness. A personal commitment to good self-care is not always easy. For some there are pressures of being a caregiver, for others various infirmities, joint or pain issues have compromised the delight once found in exercise.

            My uncle used to joke about move it or lose it and retirees who remain athletes, dancers, yoga practitioners or regular walkers testify to the importance of these acts of personal care!   Several of our Maryland Village leaders have regular fitness practices involving swimming, walking or biking and their commitment to this part of Self-Care models the importance to their neighbors. Recently I joined a Zumba class for seniors offered through one of my county sponsored recreation centers. Imagine my shock when I walked into my first class one Thursday morning at 10 am to find a basketball gym full of 95 men and women, all over 60 years of age ready to dance it up! Clearly for these older adults dancing to music with a large group of peers makes exercise a fun activity.

            What is your Village doing to support your members with this? In Chestertown Homeports Village recently offered a Physical Therapy presentation that shares some good points we can all consider to help maintain our maximum independence. Plus our regular blogger Jack Matthews shares his insight on staying fit.

 Muriel Cole our Blogger from Chestertown’s Home Prots shares this reprint from her article in Seniors Matter February 2013

Balance and Strength

            Can you stand on one foot for 30 seconds? If not, you are at a moderate risk for falling. If you can’t make it for 15 seconds, you are at a greater risk. Those guidelines were presented by Joanna Blackburn at a public presentation sponsored by HomePorts here last month.

            Blackburn, who holds a Doctorate of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland, outlined strategies for staying strong and mobile, and her tips are worth sharing.

            “It creeps up on you,” she says. “Hip, knee, back, and/or shoulder pain are common as we age,” according to her, but she adds that we can reverse deficits with exercise.

            She recommends weight-bearing exercises, beginning with one and three-pound weights. The three areas to work are 1) the trunk and back, 2) the upper body, and 3) the lower body. She recommends 30 minutes per day and alternating the exercises by working some muscles some days and some muscles other days. Of course, professional advice is important if you have not been exercising.

            For those who do not want to exercise with weights, her suggestion is doing the simple exercise of “sit-to-stand.” Stand from a seating position without holding on to chair arms and sit down. Repeat. This move can be modified by holding your arms out straight. It doesn’t require any equipment or a partner or even good weather outside.

            Of course, walking is still highly recommended and popular. The Washington Post cited a study done of 650,00 adults and found that walking just 15 minutes a day was associated with living two year longer. Those who had a normal weight and walked 30 minutes a day, five days a week, increased their life span by seven years! I see a lot of people in Chestertown who are taking these findings seriously and walking regularly. You are an example for us!

           Blackburn also emphasized that we need to pay attention to our posture as we walk. “Ears over shoulders!”

            On the subject of joint replacement, she noted that those with some debilitation should not wait too long before considering joint replacement. Rehabilitation will take longer and be tougher for those delaying surgery.

Why Exercise?

Jack Matthews

            At mid-way through my 90th year I exercise because I always feel better when I finish and I enjoy the challenge. I also have to do some type of movements during the day to keep the arthritis loose.

            Osteoarthritis caused me to give up driving two years ago so attending a gym is impractical. This means I do everything at home, mostly on a closed-in porch. My balance and walking are the most serious problems so there are two excellent pieces of equipment, plus hand weights and elastic bands, to work with.

            The first equipment I work on is a rebounder- mini trampoline – according to many fitness experts, may be the single most effective piece of exercise equipment. (Google: ‘benefits of rebounding’ for an extensive list.) For me, it is especially good for loosening the arthritis before any other exercise, but it can even help anyone who cannot walk, by sitting on the edge of the tramp while someone else bounces it.

             Other equipment is a NuStep, purchased because it was the safest machine for my wife with early stages of Alzheimer’s. Combining both machines, weights, elastic bands or intervals, I spend 20 to 40 minutes a day exercising, depending upon where I am in the routines.

            If the weather allows, I often finish the schedule on an adult tricycle, riding on streets in our community. The handle bars are set so that I am pulling up with my arms and pedaling, for a good workout. Cycling motion is much more compatible with arthritis than walking: however, I was not comfortable on a 2-wheeler. Walking is a real bummer, consequently I use a rollator to assist with balance and mobility in the house and outside.

            There are a number of fitness gurus exploiting their programs on the internet, providing helpful information to develop a home program, if attending a gym is not feasible. Many have videos and books for sale. The quantity of exercise information when exploring the internet can blow your mind, so one has to use common sense or seek advice from someone in which you have confidence.

            From every fitness source I have read, some type of physical exercise is recommended to maintain good health for both sexes and every age. I am convinced that my passion for exercise has contributed to my current ability to move and breathe.

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Remembering Animals –They Make a Difference in our Lives!

Our pets are loving members of our families and make a remarkable difference in our lives. We treasure the memories of our loving companions long after they are gone.   A friend recently posted about the loss of her beloved golden retriever on Facebook along with a photo of the beloved Max with his regal pose, loving eyes and gray muzzle. Crazy older Cat Lady jokes aside, many of my friends find that the furry, four legged companions are essential companions in later years. A pet dog provides the motivation for frequent walks in the neighborhood, others love the comfort of a cat with less demands for routine walks. The social worker at a program where I consult provides special care to residents by using her two dogs, both Bichon Frises, a well-known friendly breed.   She trained the dogs to be therapy dogs and they go to work with her on a daily basis. These special pets love to earn their keep and help to cheer up the residents and the staff. In some larger apartment complexes or stores, owners have found that a resident dog or cat can be a draw for customers. Maybe some of our Maryland Villages have some success or special stories with a Village pet or mascot among their membership? Instead of a dog or cat, our regular guest blogger, Jack Matthews from the Home Ports Village in Chestertown shares this story about his thoroughbred mare.

WHY CAN’T I?

Jack Matthews

horses 2Get on a horse and go over the first jump we come to? I did it often 75 years ago, on the farm on Quaker Bottom Road, in the midst of fox hunting country in Baltimore County.

At 15, I was given a young thoroughbred mare that had bowed a tendon on the race track, and the owner wanted a good home for her. I rode her home five miles to our farm, through farm country that is now heavily developed.

Her life was much different on our farm: except when I rode, she was out on pasture with the mules at night, and young cattle during the day. Since I was either in school or working on the farm, my riding time was after supper. She was easy to catch and take to the barn where I cleaned her up, picked out her feet and put on her tack. Though the original injury prevented her from racing, she handled my 115 pounds very well.

This new life meant learning new habits and new training, but she was intelligent, a fast learner and was soon adjusting to my communications, and actually seemed to enjoy jumping over several objects I provided. It wasn’t long before we were going over jumps in fences, with the top bar down.

In the 1940’s our farm was in the midst of farming country, every fence had a jump, so we could travel for several miles without being forced to open a gate.

That fall, a horseman nearby asked me to ride with him to a ‘meet’ of the Stump Jumpers, a group of farmers who owned fox hounds and met at different locations on Saturday , during hunting season. This was exciting for me and my mount, and we had some wonderful rides in the hunt field.

(An interesting comment: those farmers with hounds often met on a hill at night and let the hounds run loose to chase a fox until it decided to run into a hole to rest. They just enjoyed listening to the sounds at night.)

Looking back, I am ashamed of myself: I never gave the ‘lil mare a proper name, even though every mule on the farm got one, like Tobe, Kit, Beck, Jim.

And I have finally realized “why I can’t” … I don’t have that ‘lil mare.

Save the Date

March 23, 2015

Our Spring Meeting will be held from 10AM – 12PM at the Department of Aging in Anne Arundel County. 2666 Riva Rd Annapolis, MD 21401. More Details to follow.

Note: Several members would like to stay for lunch from 12PM – 1PM to enjoy networking and conversation and will go nearby to Paladar Latin Kitchen.

Email Carol with questions at ccober4@gmail.com

Memories of a Farm Boy

Welcome 2015- the partnership of attitude and good memories!
So many of us are greeting the new year on various trips to visit friends and family near and far, or hosting visitors at home. Often these visits include an exchange of stories, reminiscence of our shared past. many lessons and insights grow from these tales we share with each other. I think these stories and the process of the exchange can help us clarify our attitudes about important things in our lives. The dialogues let us begin to understand our choices and our thinking process. For some, the phrase “attitude is everything” is a profoundly important slogan of guidance! Do you find that ” you are what you think” to be true? How is your own attitude shaping your life as you make choices for yourself or a loved one who needs help?

Now half way through my 90th year, I finally admit to growing old. This means I know I really can’t shear that small flock of sheep down the road, or put a horse over a fence like I used to do. In fact, arthritis wouldn’t let me catch a sheep or saddle up the horse even though my mind says, “Let’s try”, my body says, “Forget it!”

 I really hate to admit that statement: in spite of my age and the fact that I have prostate cancer and much more arthritis than I need, I feel so good most of the time. I look forward to every day, every meal I fix, my daily exercise, and every person I see.

 I do not mind living alone, but my life is not complete because in January of ’14 my wife moved to an Assisted Living Home, 12 miles away. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago, our two children and I realized I could not continue providing the day and night care she required. Though she has no short term memory, she knows us, converses, is content and has excellent care. I hope to join her when I cannot take care of myself.

 We visit her as often as possible, but because of the arthritis I gave up driving a year ago so I have to wait until a driver is available.

The arthritis has affected my walking, balance, and posture but I try to adjust by seeking assistive devices that enable me to move as well as possible. One unusual device is an adult tricycle that I expected would be easier than a 2-wheel bike. Was I shocked when I got it? (As was someone else who ‘borrowed’ it one night … but abandoned it in the middle of our street not far from home.)

Though it is difficult, the biking rhythm is much more compatible to arthritis than is walking – which has become quite difficult – and with the handle bar set down, I get a total-body workout every time I ride. With two other pieces of equipment on our closed-in porch an excellent workout is available every day.

If I keep typing I may talk myself into finding a stable with a suitable mount … but I’ll forget the shearing.

However, I don’t want to forget milking cows by hand, being chased by a bull, driving teams of 2 or 4 mules that provided the ‘horse-power’ before a tractor appeared, wearing knickers to school, high school dances, and the wonderful rides on my horse after work on the farm.

Memories are all that is left of those days.

-Jack Matthews

Supporting the Evolution of a Thanksgiving Holiday

IMG_1985Just like changes are happening in how we are choosing to age dynamically in our communities, for many, the thanksgiving table is getting a makeover. Sharing stories about changes in how we celebrate and coping strategies for caregivers over the winter holidays can help us all think of new innovations and changes during this season of gratitude

Although some find the menu for the thanksgiving spread to be narrowly replicated ritual each year in many families new traditions emerge when hosting friends from all over the country or from new relatives via marriages. Various food preferences such as vegetarian and vegan fare have modified many home-prepared holiday meals and foods from many lands have become holiday favorites.

One friend shared the new additions from her Thai born daughter in law whose spicy recipes are not beloved family favorites. For my California sis–in-law it is not a real feast without tamales, which sound tasty and spicy instead of stuffing. This year I have a menu to accommodate multiple food preferences so I am adding some innovative new dishes and recipes so there is something for the gluten–free, dairy-free, sugar-free and meat-free attendees at our event, along side the usual turkey.

Many have found ways to incorporate volunteering as part of their Thanksgiving –and many others open their homes to all sorts of visitors, travellers and guests who need a new way to celebrate after they have moved to a new location. It is not only young, post-college interns living in a group house who need a good invitation to join in a holiday celebration, but the newly divorced, or widowed, or that couple who just moved into your neighborhood from several states away.

So how to simplify the holiday so everyone has more time to enjoy the day? A friend told me that she and her husband go out to a restaurant for the holiday meal and enjoy that approach of having a stress-free meal together. They started this when her son was posted overseas as a Marine and now the son’s family lives far and comes for Christmas instead. When her other friends bemoan the heavy work load of putting on a huge holiday meal she just smiles and knows she can better manage her weight watchers points eating out without a refrigerator full of fat-laden goodies. More than one friend notes that long ago they gave up using good china and by switching to paper plates and several note that their family always makes a long hike part of the day so the focus is not just on the calories but instead a chance to hang out with others in a healthy activity not just stuffing their faces together.

Caregivers have special holiday challenges. One dear friend shares how she is able to delegate a sibling to be the special care-giver of the thanksgiving day to make sure her 95 year old mother is tended and brought to the family feast and helped during the day and afterwards. When her sibling steps up to be “hands on caregiver for the day” it ensures that all the tending for the mama’s needs is handled with loving care by someone else so my buddy, can instead spend the day as the hostess for the holiday meal without her usual caregiver duties. No matter what your choices or innovations happen to be I hope they are nurturing to your heart.

Following is a shared post from Muriel Cole of HomePorts in Chestertown, MD., a few tips for coping with holiday stress, with a special focus on caregivers, reprinted by permission from the Kent County News.

Seniors Matter- MIXED EMOTIONS FOR CAREGIVERS OVER THE HOLIDAYS

            “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” goes the song sung by Andy Williams and others.   But for some of us, the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day is the most stressful time of the year. Anticipation of family gatherings can provoke anxiety for many reasons, and the stress of caring for an elderly spouse, parent, or other relative can complicate the experience.

            Experts offer any number of to-do lists and recommendations to minimize the stress on caregivers. Here is my list, based on experience and reading:

  1. Be realistic. Make a holiday to-do list or calendar. Then cross off the low priority ones. This may be a time to lower expectations, including expectations of

yourself. Simplify. Perfect is the enemy of good. (And big can be the enemy of small.)

  1. Delegate. You do not need to do it all. Learn to say No. See number 1.

.           3. Be flexible. Learn to accept changes as they occur.

  1. Maintain your health – nutritionally, physically, spiritually, and socially. Don’t skip medications or medical appointments. Exercise is important in order to maintain your energy and vitality. Just 10 minutes three times a day.
  2. Know your limits, and ask for help when you need it. Encourage honest communications among family and close friends about the caregiving situation.

            Traveling with someone who has dementia raises special concerns. Patti DeWitt, Community Nurse Educator at Cooper Ridge Institute, advises to make travel as short as possible, build in rest periods, stick to the familiar, and avoid travel at peak periods. Single destination trips are bet. Schedule major activities for early in the day. To the extent possible, stick to a regular routine. Large groups and noise can increase confusion and discomfort.

            What do you give a caregiver? The Alzheimer’s Association recommends gift certificates for home repairs, house cleaning, or products that can be delivered; the gift of listening; a ready-made meal; respite care so that the caregiver can take a break; or books. For those suffering from dementia, gift suggestions include music, visits, bath products, night lights, and hugs.

Good News – Social Security beneficiaries receive a 1.7% cost-of-living increase in January. Medicare premiums do not change. The average monthly social security benefit will be $1,328 per month. The maximum will be $2,663 per month.

( Reprinted by permission from the Kent County News)

Assistive Devices for Arthritis

I wanted to share another blog post about using  your creative ingenuity and skillful persistence at problem solving to live dynamically at home.  Our blog contributor from Chestertown, Maryland, Jack Matthews has some excellent key points about searching and finding resources to support living well with arthritis. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, having over used my hands as a sign language interpreter, painter and knitter I am already looking for ways to accommodate my hands.  I like learning how others have creatively found solutions and hope you find some of Jack’s pointers helpful! Sometimes it is the little things that offer assistance with simple daily activities that can make a huge difference! Let us know what makes your life easier.

In 1947, as member of a college Gym Team, I was working on the rings and practicing a ‘cut and catch’ The ‘cut’ was perfect, but something happened to the ‘catch’. When I landed on the mat and looked for my left elbow it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

It was repaired, just not fine-tuned, but since I was able to function in most normal activities I went on living. Now, I know that was not adequate, for my body has been out of sync for 67 years, seriously affecting my posture, standing and walking.

As we age there are many health problems that require creative thinking and assistive devices to make life easier, but it was arthritis that caused me to look for resources.

According to tests, it inhabits my knees, hips, back, neck and hands. Twenty years ago it forced me to stop doing calligraphy, and two years ago, my legs convinced me to give up driving. Since then my mobility in the house and outside has forced me to explore devices such as a cane, walking stick or walker. After trying a number, I settled on a rollator.

This is a 4-wheeled vehicle that has a seat with a back, a basket under the seat, and folds easily for transport. I have much more confidence, can move faster, inside and outside, and transport foods, drinks, mail, or objects. It weighs 14 pounds and easily fits in a trunk of most vehicles. (Lists in catalogs for $89 to $250. I paid $89).

In the kitchen I had problems opening bottles so placed a pair of off-set pliers in a handy drawer. That drawer also contains special grippers to open large jars and a screw driver.

Dressing became difficult when I could not reach my toes and could not put on my sox, so the catalog provided several types of ‘sox putter-onners’ and a long handled shoe horn.

When doing some home updating, we had most frequently used door knobs changed to easier lever handles. To eliminate carrying laundry up and down stairs, we had a tub replaced by an over/under washer/dryer in the bathroom. We also had grab bars placed in the shower and bathroom, and they have rescued my balance several times.

One of the most used devices is a ‘reacher’ or arm extender to retrieve items on the floor or high in closets. One is on the rollator at all times and seems to be in use quite often. These come in different lengths from 18” to 27” and cost from $9 and up.

Here are some tips for different problems: an apron with a large pocket to carry light things, thicker and softer handles are easier to grip so wrap home and yard tool handles with tape, buttoning a shirt can become frustrating but there are gadgets that help this, and even to pull a zipper up or down.

There are many more devices that make life easier, in the home or outside. For more details google ‘arthritis assistive devices’ on the computer, check at your pharmacy, or any store with medical and health care supplies.

November Gratitude-Beyond Thanksgiving to Everyday

Finding new ways to live dynamically throughout life is a wonderful gift. Something that inspires my own gratitude. So since we are in a season of gratitude I would like to share the following posts.
One of our Community of Practice leaders, Bob Coen, from Carroll County, has shared a number of insights with me and I benefit from his learning and the exchange of his life story.  Recently he shared this following post-which reveals how tending to our wellness, tapping into wellness resources, like acupuncture in this case, can bring us the exact question that invites us to choose how we will think, how we will live.
Making the choice to live fully, to practice good self-care for our precious bodies throughout life is  very important to living successfully in our communities, and within our families.  Questions can help us clarify what we are thinking and what we think can profoundly influence the choices we make in our daily lives.    Sharing our stories of how we arrive at the place of insight can offer encouragement to each other.  I hope you find some inspiration from the question that helped Bob examine his situation. Please consider sharing some of your insights or stories with us.

About Going Beyond Coping to Thriving

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarol Cober asked me to write about the above topic. To me, that’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

Back in 1995 and a few years before, I was a weekend runner and began to have problems lifting my legs while running and some problems with my gait too. One of the things I learned, when you press for a diagnosis is be careful what you ask for. At Johns Hopkins Hospital, they ran tests and diagnosed me as having a progressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. The doctor who diagnosed me said you’ll probably be in a wheelchair in a year. That really got my attention! At the time, I had begun to use acupuncture to deal with these unknown symptoms. So when I heard from Hopkins and got the diagnosis, I was in shock! The first person I called was my acupuncturist, Bob Duggan. Bob, at the time, was the CEO of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, MD. Bob said something profound to me…are you going to live or live the diagnosis? And what’s different today than yesterday other than you have a diagnosis?”

Those few words have stuck with me over the past twenty years. I used to do whatever the doctor said, but now I listen to my body and have realized that I know what my body needs much better than some high-tech interment. I have taken charge of my own health and happy with it.

Before we moved to our CCRC, I had an old Schwinn Airdyne and rode it three or four times a week, began doing pranayama breathing exercises, taking acupuncture, and maintain a positive outlook on life. I found that I did not contract the usual colds, etc., and attribute that to in large part to acupuncture. I have no data on that, just one data point, me and to me, that’s all the matters!

About two and a half years ago, I was not being mindful at our home in Harford County and took a fall in our tile bathroom. I ended up with a small brain-bleed, five stitches over my left eye and a broken humorous in my left arm. I spent two weeks in the hospital and two months rehabbing. My wife and I decided to investigate CCRC’s in the area as we did not want to burden our children with our care and snow and leaf removal were becoming an issue where we lived. Our go-to daughter lived in Carroll County and taught English at Westminster High. She suggested we look into Carroll Lutheran Village (CLV) (see www.clvillage.org) and we did…like what we saw (especially the pool for me).

We moved to CLV in April, 2012. I’m now swimming a mile a day and am the chairman of the CLV Wellness Committee. While I lived in Harford, I had become a commissioner on the county Disability Commission so when we moved to Carroll County, I volunteered for the Commission on Aging and Disabilities and was appointed in January 2014. The chairwoman asked me to help her with setting up an Aging in Place initiative in Carroll and that’s what brought me to Communities of Practice (CoP). I had been volunteering as a mentor with McDaniel College for the Director of the Center for Aging (CSA), Dr. Diane Martin. I thought, wait a minutes, this is a no-brainer! Why not approach Dr. Martin about AIP in Carroll County? She has the skills and knowledge about dealing with an aging population and teaming with her would be a win-win. I also think that when you live in a community, you need to reach out and I’ve found working to bring this choice (AIP) to the Westminster and Carroll Community has been exciting and rewarding.

Planning Ahead: Communities for a Lifetime

One of the leaders of our Maryland Community of Practice, Muriel Cole, has shared the following article about Communities for a Lifetime and the Village Movement. Muriel, one of the Founders of one of the early Village Programs, HomePorts in Chestertown, Maryland, has been working with communities to improve opportunities for older adults to provide leadership as they to age well, bringing her professional training and expertise in gerontology to help foster positive new models.   We are able to share her article, reprinted by permission of the Kent County News.   We are grateful she has shared these insights with us.

Communities for a Lifetime

Muriel Cole-Home Ports- Kent County MD

Do you want to be able to stay in your home or community as you age? Have you thought about what you – or your elderly parents – would do if you needed a little extra support to help make this happen?  Many of us are worried about this next chapter in life. What’s ahead? Are there changes happening in our society that we can benefit from?

Columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times that technology will allow the 21st century economy to be “powered by people” rather than by corporations.  We marvel at how technology has made the world so much smaller and its inhabitants so interconnected.  Friedman sees this transformation as good news, noting that trust increases as we can know more about each other, see each other, and have lives that are more and more transparent.

He quotes Brian Chesky, a co-founder of Airbnb, a popular web site listing rooms to rent worldwide, “I think we are going to move back to a place where the world is a village again – a place where a lot of people know each other… and everyone has a reputation that everyone else knows.”

This new way of thinking is popping up more and more. NPR recently reviewed a new book titled The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter. For older adults the idea of a “village” is apparently particularly good news. The innovative aging-in-place “village” movement captures Chesky’s vision.  Nation-wide there are 140 independent, community-based Village organizations in 40 states, with 120 more under development.

These Villages are non-profit grass roots organizations established within a community to give members access to a wide range of services for remaining safely and confidently in their own home. HomePorts resources, for example, include a cadre of 60 volunteers, and referrals to reliable service providers for transportation; interior and exterior home maintenance; grocery & meal services; personal assistance & trouble shooting; and health & wellness.  Additionally, members promote community services and encourage joining social, educational, and cultural activities as well. Annual fees vary, with many offering financial aid to those with limited incomes.

Considered a wave of the future, the first one in Boston, known as Beacon Hill Village, has been in operation for over ten years.  “Clearly, the member-driven, self-governing, and self-funded features of the Village concept struck a chord with those dealing with the next phase of their lives,” according to Susan McWhinney-Morse, a founder of Beacon Hill Village.

According to the national Aging in Place Council, in the past, if someone had difficulty living by themselves, it was a signal that now was time to move in with family or go to a nursing home. But, for most people, that no longer is the case. Today, we can live on our own for many years, even as we grow older and start needing help with everyday tasks. However, success requires some careful planning. Access to and membership in a village can be a significant part of that plan.

Reliance on friends and family can be stressful, uncertain, and guilt-inducing. Membership in a Village is lifestyle insurance, paying for that peace of mind that comes with the confidence that help can be available.

Earlier this month I attended the annual conference of the national Village-to-Village Network and came away more enthusiastic than ever about the concept. It was impressive to see almost 300 people, mostly retirees traveling at their own expense, willing to spend their time discussing, informing, and strengthening this self-help movement.

Early cost-benefit studies are showing that membership in a Village can save money for seniors and for taxpayers by making transportation and services more efficient, while lowering overall health care expenditures. Among the preliminary findings of a University of California at Berkeley study are benefits showing:

*A reduction in falls, due to volunteer assistance available

*More appropriate and effective use of health services, because of easier access to medical appointments and information

*Decreased use of residential facilities, since members may remain stronger longer

*Greater safety and security, in general

*Greater confidence in members’ ability to live independently

National conference organizers also cited reduced isolation. Their surveys show that 60% of members feel more connected with other people, 79% know more people than they used to, and 82% are more likely to know how to get assistance when they need it.

“We need to become more age-sensitive and age-friendly,” said Vincent Gray, Washington, D.C. Mayor, who spoke at the conference. “The power of Villages is increasing daily. People can get taken advantage of. Villages are service advocates. Another beauty of a Village is its extensive use of volunteers,” according to Gray, whose city includes 14 Villages.

Leaders of the twenty or more Villages in Maryland are now leading a state-wide effort, driven by research at the University of Maryland, to establish a “Communities for a Lifetime” Program.  Such a program is outlined in State Senate Bill 822, from 2011.

With support, advocacy, and purposeful effort by all ages, your community could proudly be in the forefront, as one of the first to be designated as a Community for a Lifetime.

Connecting to the Heart of Each Other

At Home Chesapeake is a Village program in Anne Arundel County (athomechesapeake.org) that has been existence for seven years. Over this time together, the members determined that they like a high participatory, peer-to-peer membership approach in their village. By sharing stories and backgrounds as well as “bumps in the road” (illness, caregiving, etc.), close friendships have developed. These relationships help build resilience and advocacy support while living and aging well in our homes and community.

 Not only do most of us recognize that close, supportive, connections make our lives feel better, but research has confirmed this for many years, and gerontologists and other social scientists and program designers have worked to make sure we prevent social isolation as our vulnerability increases. When we choose to age in our homes and our neighborhoods our Village programs need to be creative at fostering opportunities to meet each other and be together.

 At the recent Village to Village Conference in Washington D.C. new research demonstrating health benefits for Village program membership reported that social engagement, access to services, health and well-being, and self-efficacy have a high successful relation to healthy aging. (Andrew Scharlach, PhD, Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services UC Berkeley). Social engagement matters to our well-being. During this gathering of people who have established Village Programs around the country we also held a group of those throughout Maryland. Representatives attended from many Maryland Villages-from Baltimore, Kent County, Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George and Montgomery Counties.

 In our program we have always incorporated strong elements that foster social connection and the importance of reciprocal relationships. I often call this the “social glue” that is the heart of our community. Sometimes the size of a gathering matters, or the venue offered because we need to provide opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard. Large meetings do not always allow for truly getting to know each other.

 The following blog entry written by a member of At Home Chesapeake, demonstrates the “social health” including creating and maintaining relationships that is important for healthy aging across the lifespan. In our Village we are always looking for creative ways to support our social gatherings to foster connections and deepen relationships.

-Maureen Cavaiola

Sharing Culture, Cooking, Dinner and More –by Diane Evans, member of At Home Chesapeake

 cookingAt Home Chesapeake recently hosted a Bengali cooking class at a member’s home. It proved to be far more than a cooking class. To give a little background, three recipes were sent to participating members via email. Our “instructor,” another member, assembled the various ingredients ahead of time. Oh, my, such exotic spices. Where would you buy them if you even wanted to try a recipe on our own? We needn’t have worried. Not only were we taught about each spice, but given several local places to purchase them. The vegetables and fish could be bought almost anywhere.

As we gathered, we learned the benefits of Bengali cooking for improved health. We learned that the styles of cooking in the various regions of India differ, each having their own distinct flavors and methods of preparation. We learned how to properly chop, grate, steam and serve our new delicacies as we joined in to prepare the fish, vegetables and the dal.

Preparing the food and learning about it was the reason we got together. But the gathering was also an opportunity for expanding and enhancing the “social glue” of our community connections. We learned far more about the “spices of life” by breaking bread together, and through sharing stories about ourselves and letting others know of our heritage as we sat around the dining room table. The shared giggles were almost like those peppermint drops used to finish off a good meal and settle our tummies. Didn’t families do this not so long ago? Being together and celebrating a good meal was one of the joys of life. It still should be.

 Food was the reason we got together, but the camaraderie was far more sustaining. We laughed and devoured not only the food but the support we gleaned from one another. As we cleared the table, we all decided more of us from At Home Chesapeake should come to the next cooking demo. Working together for a common goal brings us together, food sustains our bodies, but we need each other to nourish our souls.

Caregiving, Creativity and Compassionate Listening

The Last Symphony

Mike Clark

You know something is amiss

When the conductor departs

Leaving the podium

And the orchestra confused

And lost.

Her neighborhood becomes

Alien territory

And she gets lost on her street.

In disarray, the orchestra flounders.

The string section walks out

En masse.

Her sense of routine is challenged.

Meals alone are toast and bananas.

The wind ensemble stoops blowing

Brassy and tinny harmonies.

Friends come by their appointed time

And she is still in her robe.

The percussion section stays

As the end nears.

Family watches over her

As a parent over a child.

The heart beat persists

Until exhausted and punched out.

She is stretched out on the sheets

To await the requiem

Of the last drum beat.

FallOne of the intentions we set for this Blog-is to exchange information at the heart level pertinent to Aging in Community.  Sharing about the deeper aspects of living throughout the lifespan helps all of us examine our intentions for aging well and for finding adequate support as we do so.  Stories of our hearts can offer ideas to each other that help us to prepare for our future. Stories are central to building community-this exchange of our struggles and joy and our innovations help us connect to each other. This inviting each member to be known and seen more is one of the wonderful opportunities in building a new community or enhancing an existing community.  Sometimes we call it the social glue of community.

One of my fellow poets, Mike Clark, shared a few poems that deal with caregiving and the death of his Mother.  We have heard from readers that these stories help to build a bridge between people from different ages and living in various ways of “Aging in Community”. We’d love to hear about opportunities to expand the social connections that have occurred in your neighborhood Village.

You might have noticed we have a side bar inviting guest bloggers to write on specific subjects.  For example one idea for this month is to write about friendships, one idea for next month is on the topic of Caregiving.  There are many resources for family caregivers we can find, support groups, newsletters on line, all sorts of resources.  This summer the Montgomery County Commission on Aging conducted a study on Caregiving and we will be posting some of those resources next month.

Community is about our relationships. Some of us are involved with various “intentional” communities, groups of belonging, book clubs, gatherings of a faith tradition, neighbors and lifelong friends. Many of us participate in groups of belonging related to creativity.

I was recently invited to join a group of women who knit and are affiliated with social psychology.    This wise-women, knitters have intentionally included members from several decades leading to all sorts of interesting life stories exchanged from the past and present accompanied by the sounds of knitting needles flying.  As I shared about my connection and work with Village communities this group of social psychologists were curious and interested.  We discovered one of the knitters actually lives within the boundaries of a functioning Village community so I was able to connect her to that group. Already engaged in a hands-on creative activity it seemed that our minds were easily open to creatively examining the ideas on Aging in Community that we were discussing.

We can learn so much from each other, whether we are connecting with new friends or long standing supporters.  Last week I was attending the American Evaluation Association meeting to present on some of our Villages research, and participate in examining how we can more accurately conduct evaluations with people who have disabilities or with other vulnerable populations.  While there I was able to visit my best friend from High School. Seeing my friend was not only about reminiscence of our younger days, but to exchange support and encouragement for our current caregiving roles as daughters with mothers struggling with dementia and fathers with health problems. Speaking about the sadness and fears of this process with candor and being met with tender compassion was a great comfort.

Sitting over supper we are stunned to learn how similar our parents lives have been, both couples in their mid 80’s now, from the Midwest, in lifelong marriages with the our mothers’ as wives more dependent on their husbands.  Now as the wives cognitive skills decrease we witness the strain on our fathers’ declining health status as the caregiving grows more difficult to manage for the whole family.  Poet Mike Clark offers another poem to track the darkness that can emerge in this caregiving process:

On Shore

Witnessing my mother

Sink into her shroud

Of misunderstanding

Is not too different

From standing ashore

To witness a drowning.

Some small measure of comfort comes from speaking the difficult truth about what we are witnessing as we observe the shifts in our beloved families. It is a profound comfort to share the story with another who remembers the past way a person’s life was lived and also grasps the present reality as vulnerability increases.  This exchange of the whole story is so important.

A Cat’s Meow

Mike Clark

Mother’s true wish

To grow old gracefully

Allowed her

To lie conveniently

About her age.

At 82, Mother was 72.

In her late eighties

Skin cancer and

Her steel white hair

Replaced her raven locks

And tanned look.

Time left her vulnerable

To the truth

But the corrosion

Failed to erode

Her lightness of being—

“Used to be, I was the cat’s meow.

Now I am just the alley cat.”

We would love to hear how innovations related to caregiving are happening in your community.  Are there creative partnerships between families and village volunteers? Does your community offer opportunities where creative pursuits have provided small groups of support and caring?  Let us know how your community has fostered friendships that share the deeper truths with non-judgment and compassion.

May we all find the special heart-friends who completely grasp the depths of own personal experience living in the midst of some of life ‘s most tender moments.

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