The National Senior Games Association Encourages Seniors to Stay Active

In an earlier article, I discussed the Washington State Senior Games currently underway throughout the South Puget Sound area. Washington, along with 49 other states and the District of Columbia, is affiliated with the National Senior Games Association. For nearly 30 years this nonprofit organization has provided seniors a national stage on which to compete and is now leading the effort to demonstrate that seniors at any age can achieve their “personal best.”

National Senior Games Association - Track and Field

Photo courtesy of NGSA (Photo credit Anacleto Rapping)

The passion Marc T. Riker brings to his role as CEO of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) is evident when he describes and the athletes who inspire him and the effect sports has on seniors’ lives.

One of these athletes is a 93-year-old New Mexico man who Riker needed to reach, but the phone went unanswered after repeated attempts to reach him. When the man called back, he apologized, explaining that he had been busy painting his house. During their conversation, he proudly shared with Riker a birthday tradition he started after turning 90—taking a 100-mile bike ride annually. Another athlete is a woman who discovered she enjoyed swimming and has since competed in and won many senior games competitions despite being legally blind. Her experiences in sports competition had such a positive impact on her life that she started a foundation to enable other seniors in her city to enjoy the same benefits.

These athletes demonstrate what Riker hopes other seniors will discover— that sports is not just for super-jocks and “anyone can do it at any point in [their] life.”

National Senior Games Association - Road Race

Photo courtesy of NSGA (Photo credit Bobby Curtis)

The National Senior Games Association had its start in St. Louis, Mo. in 1985 when seven men and women formed the National Senior Olympics Organization with a vision “to promote healthy lifestyles for adults through education, fitness and sport.”

Drawing upon the support of other groups who were organizing senior games in their respective states, the first formal National Senior Olympic Games was held in 1987 in St. Louis with 2,500 participants aged 50 and older. At this time, the NSGA formally incorporated and set up its governing body. It was at its second National Games in 1989 that the event “really hit the road running” thanks to increased media exposure about our organization, Riker explains.

Nearly 30 years later, the NSGA expects 12,000 participants to compete in its 2015 games. The games are biennial, with the even numbered years being qualifying years. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have senior game organizations affiliated with the NSGA, and the seniors who compete in their state games can qualify for the national games. Some states are closed, meaning that only in-state seniors can compete, but most are all-inclusive, allowing those from other areas to compete—which, Riker says, is pretty cool. And even the National Games are all-inclusive, he adds, with seniors from 10 different countries having competed in the 2013 games.

National Senior Games Association - Road Race

Photo courtesy of NSGA (Photo credit Benjamin B. Morse)

What sets the National Games apart from other competitions is that all events are open to both men and women. Over the years the number of female participants has increased, with some women having always competed in a sport while others are latecomers. Participants range from those in their 50s to those 100 years old and travel from all over to participate. It is the comradery amongst the participants that make the games “really kind of fun to put together,” Riker says

Of the seniors who qualify at their state-level games, Riker estimates one-third will make the trip to compete in the National Games. But having every qualifying senior compete in the National Games is not the “end mission” of NSGA. “Some people just want to participate in local community events” and that is fine, he says, elaborating that “the most important thing is that we want to see more aging adults up and active.”

Recognizing that more needed done to promote active living, the NSGA started the Personal Best Program in 2013 to recognize senior athletes who personified the spirit of active healthy living. Last year they recognized 16 athletes, and Riker was pleased by how well the program was received at a nine-stop tour the NSGA conducted to publicize the initiative. “Each event was really powerful and successful. Now we’re asked, ‘When are you coming to our state?’  We hope that people feel inspired to say ‘if this person can do this, I can do it too’ and to spread the message that anyone can be involved in a sport,” he explains. “It’s been a lot of fun recognizing people for what they have done.”

National Senior Games Association - Basketball

Photo courtesy of NSGA (Photo credit Bobby Curtis)

And it is not only seniors who are motivated to see the physical accomplishments of their peers. At the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio presented by Humana, Riker says the college and high school volunteers were “surprised at what they saw. They just couldn’t believe it,” he explains, adding that several of the young men even said they could not wait until they were 50 so they could compete.

Though Riker was not a senior when he joined NSGA, he is now and describes the organization as a group of people who are passionate about their work. “It is the end result of seeing that you are making a difference” and the NSGA is one piece of the puzzle to inspire seniors to live a healthy lifestyle, he adds.

This passion will support the NSGA during its next 30 years because participation at the state and national level is expected to increase with more people in their 40s and 50s consciously engaged in an active lifestyle which will continue into their 60s and beyond. “They don’t want to be playing board games” and it is fascinating to hear that senior centers and YMCAs are adapting their programs to accommodate these active seniors,” Riker says. “It is a very dynamic change.”

For seniors who think they are too old to participate in a sport, much less compete, Riker encourages them not to think that way: “It’s not too late to get started…there’s a place to get involved.”

To learn more about the NSGA and their Personal Best Program, visit www.NSGA.com and sign up to receive the free monthly e-newsletter.


Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com. In addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWest, The Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

The Hills are Alive! – Three Ways The Sound of Music Can Help Us as We Age

If you’ve ever bopped along to a good tune or danced the night away, you know how powerful music can be. So how do you solve a problem like aging? Well, it’s much easier than holding a moonbeam in your hands.

Modern technology has made it easier than ever for seniors to medicate their minds with melody. Follow these three tips to release your inner Von Trapp Family Singers and get in touch with the sound of music.

1. Learn to “Do-Re-Mi”

A senior and caregiver share headphones while enjoying a song togetherEarly in the musical, The Sound of Music, Fraulein Maria sings “Do-Re-Mi” to teach the Von Trapp children the notes of the major scale. The children had grown up in a house without music. What a shame! Singing stimulates the immune system and decreases stress hormones. It also improves cardiovascular function while calming the central nervous system. Some think music might even be as effective as medication in reducing the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. By teaching the children how to sing, Maria not only raised their spirits, but also changed their lives.

With this in mind, I’ve recently come to appreciate the app, SingFit, which may have the potential for seniors to reduce the effects of cognitive disease by allowing individuals or groups to sing and record their favorite hits from any era. The built-in lyrics engine prompts the correct song lyrics at the right time. This helps seniors with dementia to join in the singing experience.

Similar to SingFit, the Singtrix karaoke machine helps seniors “climb every mountain.” Singtrix is the next generation of karaoke machine. It transforms your home into a studio and your senior into a star. The Singtrix was recently featured on the ABC daytime television program The View.

Remember: When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.

2. Enjoy “a Few of My Favorite Things”

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may do it for Maria, but maybe bright copper kettles aren’t your thing. Finding a favorite musical thing may be the key to healthy aging for seniors.

A 2013 McGill University study found that emotionally significant music was critical to healthy aging by stimulating the release of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests this may maintain or improve senior brain function. In fact, a New York-based nonprofit, Music & Memory, gives seniors iPods so they can listen to their favorite songs.

Seek out a few favorite things in your senior’s life.A senior couple dances to their favoite song Just about every song you can imagine is available in the iTunes store, Amazon Market, or Google Play. Provide your senior with an iPod or another device which can play music and help keep her sharp.

Just as Maria said, music is great “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, or when you’re feeling sad. Simply, remember your favorite songs, and then you won’t feel so bad.”

3. Don’t Be “The Lonely Goat Herd”

At the musical’s climax, Captain Von Trapp strides out to the stage. He sings Edelweiss, a sad goodbye to his beloved homeland of Austria. His emotions overcome him; his voice breaks. The entire Von Trapp family joins him on stage to bolster him. Soon, the audience joins in and the collected voices build to a memorable crescendo.

Music means you never need to be alone. And that’s a good thing, according to The National Institute on Aging. Studies suggest social seniors are less likely to develop age-related mental problems. As an added benefit, social seniors live longer. Socializing prevents a feeling isolated and leads to better quality of life. Sing! Karaoke by Smule helps tech savvy musical seniors join a chorus around the world. Choose a song and sing along. You can go solo or join your voice to new friends anywhere.

Shy seniors don’t even need to participate to get the benefit of music. Some research shows that passive music consumption can also help the senior brain. Websites or apps like Vevo, Spotify, or Pandora are manageable technology for many seniors. Most have free, advertising-supported services, or you can pay to remove advertisements. ZenVibe is an app designed to provide music designed to help listeners de-stress and meditate. You can personalize your session according to the level of nirvana you desire.

But, there’s more to music than just singing. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, practicing musical instruments can have therapeutic effects. Music practice helps seniors reap brain rewards while not overburdening cognitive functioning.

Conclusion

You don’t need to be a Tony winner to enjoy these senior-friendly musical technologies. If you learn to love the sound of music, you are taking a huge step to bidding “so long, farewell” to both loneliness and dementia.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. Shayne has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

Joan’s Journey – Unexpected Events Lead to CAT

Santa Monica, CA rocks. Santa Monica senior living rocks and rolls. And I mean literally — my chair, bed, and car, with me in them, have rocked and rolled with earthquakes.

Joan's Journey and her CAT realization

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. Geriatric experts talk about adjustments to senior living. I suggest “Climate Change” be added to the list. On the calm, clear night of March 17, 2014, at 6:25 am, I was asleep in my bed at Holiday Villa East (HVE) in Santa Monica.

Quite suddenly, I awoke as my body lifted from the mattress into the air. In a very few seconds, my body fell back onto the mattress. The bouncing movement of the building and its contents, like the ceiling fan, stopped swaying. The thundering noise ceased. I was surrounded in dark stillness. Not a sound was heard in the hallway outside my room or from the street.

“Did I have a nightmare,” I wondered?

Nothing more happened that I noticed, and soon I fell back to sleep. Although I didn’t feel them, according to the US Geological Survey, more than 100 small earthquakes, not aftershocks, occurred in the four hours following that 4.9 quake, including a 4.2 quake. Since Jan. 1, 2014, at least 500 quakes have been recorded in the City of Santa Monica.

The next morning HVE was abuzz with resident and staff chatter about the latest “significant” quake, which means 4.0 and greater. The March 17 quake was felt by most LA County folks, but fortunately caused little damage.

I  called my son Mark, who lives across the Hollywood Hills in LA County. “Why didn’t you call me after the quake?” I said. “I was scared.”

Mark’s cheerfully answered, “Quakes in LA are like noisy garbage trucks going by. They happen!”

Joan London, a former Houston Chronicle newspaper correspondent, is a freelance medical and social service writer. Ms. London recently moved from Baltimore to a senior housing residence in Santa Monica, CA, where she is closer to her children and grandchildren.

To read the rest of Joan’s post, view “Part 20: Unexpected Events Lead to CAT of Joan’s Journey.

A Look at What Active 88-Year-Old Colorado Seniors Can Do

Continuing upon our senior games theme during July, Margery Fridstein, author of The Last Stop, highlights the athletic achievements of her friends who are long-time competitors in the Rocky Mountain Senior Games and other athletic events in Colorado.

Jan and Ted are active seniors who participate in athletic events in Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Margery Fridstein.

Most readers are familiar with my articles on my senior living experiences, but this time, it is my good friends, Jan and Ted and their athletic successes as they age, who are the focus. For 20 years, my husband and I were great buddies with them in Snowmass Village, Colorado. We skied, hiked, played tennis, partied and traveled together. Then the time came when we both decided to move to senior retirement communities at a lower altitude. We each chose a community close to one of our children. Bob and I put our skis and hiking boots away. Though Jan and Ted may not ski and hike as much anymore, they are out there breaking other records.

At 88 years old, they are both accomplishing enviable athletic achievements. At the Rocky Mountain Senior Games held this past April in Greely, Colorado, Ted won seven Gold Medals and one Silver Medal, while Jan competed in a field of 42,000 participants in the BolderBOULDER 10K on Memorial Day in Boulder, Colorado. I remember each of them undergoing double knee replacement surgery about 10 years ago, but you wouldn’t know that based upon how active they are. Jan walks 6.2 miles for the 10K, while Ted’s sport is weight lifting.

I would not have known anything about either of their athletic successes at if I had not asked. Jan and Ted are both incredibly modest. Ted competes in the 85- to 89-year-old age group in weight lifting. He has attended this event annually since 2008, winning between five and eight gold medals every year. This year there were eight men competing in his age group, Ted being the oldest.

The state-wide senior games held in Colorado is called The Rocky Mountain Senior Games. An athlete in most other sports can compete at the National Senior Games if he or she has qualified at the state level but unfortunately, Ted does not have that option. Weight lifting is only offered in Colorado, so he cannot compete at the 2015 National Senior Olympics in Minnesota.

During his eight years of competition at the senior games, Ted has not only won in his age bracket, but also scores better than the men in the 70-year-old categories. And what is so gratifying to Ted is that the younger men encourage him to beat their records. He finds great comradeship at this annual event which is why he keep training and going back.

Ted does not have the stature of a heavy-duty muscle man. He looks much more like a retired school administrator, which was his career, than a body builder. I asked him about the history of his strength. He told me that as a kid he was always the youngest in his class because of promotions related to being a good learner. He found it hard to keep up in sports in school because he was younger and smaller than the other kids, so he just worked harder. He believes the need to work harder and compete with his classmates was the root of this old-age athletic competitiveness. However, he has been athletic all of his life starting out his adult career in education as a high school basketball coach. I asked if his kids were proud of him. He told me that they don’t say much to him about it, but he thinks that they brag to their friends.

How does Ted prepare? Ted’s gym is across the street from where he lives. He usually works out for an hour or two four times a week. His exercises include push-ups, sit-ups, bench presses, leg press and curls. I can remember seeing him working out at the Snowmass Club when we in Snowmass Village. There is nothing halfhearted about his work out. His recommendation to others who are training for weight lifting is preparing for a long period of time and not lifting anything heavy without proper preparation. He began preparing in January for April’s competition, and now he has slowed off.

There is a wonderful quote on the Rocky Mountain Senior Games website by John Byrne: “Getting older is fine. There is nothing you can do to stop it so you might as well stay on the bus.” In my opinion, Ted is more than on the bus—he is having a great ride on that bus!

Jan does not accompany Ted to his games. “That is his own thing,” she tells me. “I am very proud of him.” Instead, she focuses on her 10K training and is as modest in describing her training as Ted is about his. She takes three-mile walks several times a week and swims almost daily. She also goes to a water aerobics class.  Jan was particularly proud of this year’s race because she was two minutes faster than when she competed last year, and there were only three women in her age group competing.

Jan told me about a disappointing experience they had when living in Snowmass Village. For many years they had participated in America’s Uphill, an annual winter event involving snowshoeing up Aspen Mountain. They usually won when they were in the 70s-age category group. When they turned 80, their application was turned down because there was no 80s group and they were not allowed to participate with the 70 year olds.

No question, Jan and Ted are extremely fortunate to have the strength and vigor to continue their athletic endeavors. There are probably a lot more of us who could be out there competing with and against them. They serve as role models, encouraging all of us old, old folks to keep in there as long as we can and make the old body work.

Written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist specializing in child development. Margery currently lives in a continuing care retirement community outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her senior living experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

Active Northwest Seniors Compete in the 18th Annual Washington State Senior Games

Across the United State this summer, seniors are competing against their peers in senior games—proving that you can be an athlete at any age. In recognition of these games, and with this year being a qualifying year for the National Senior Games in 2015, we are publishing a series of articles about the senior games. Join us as we celebrate the men and women who are redefining active aging.

WA State Senior Games - Athletes hugging

Photo courtesy of Washington State Senior Games

This July, seniors—from Oregon, British Columbia, and even from California and Arizona—will converge in the Olympia area to compete in the Washington State Senior Games (WSSG). For 18 years, these games have enabled seniors the opportunity to compete against their peers in a professional setting and be cheered on by family and friends.

According to Jack Kiley, president of the WSSG, the games came to Washington State late; while the first National Senior Olympic Game was held in 1987 in St. Louis, the games didn’t begin in Washington until 1996. At that time, it was called the Puget Sound Senior Games and there were only a few hundred participants competing in four to five sporting events. Now Kiley says that 23 events are offered with 2,000 participants competing each year, and we are still “trying to get past that 2,000 person plateau,” he says.

Though their games are “very inclusive,” allowing out-of-state seniors to participate, Kiley admits there is difficulty spreading word about Washington’s games due to a limited budget. Though they send flyers to senior centers and YMCAs, it is mostly through word-of-mouth that seniors learn about us and join the games, he explains.

Basketball team at Washington State Senior Games

Photo courtesy of Washington State Senior Games

Another difficulty in attracting participants could also be the stereotype associated with the term senior, Kiley says. Even though the games are open to adults 50 years or older—there was even a 103-year-old shot putter one year—those in their 50s do not consider themselves seniors just yet. The average age of most participants is 62-63.

Of the 23 events offered at this year’s games, seniors can expect some new ones including rock climbing, power walking and trap shooting. Kiley says the board is “open to virtually everything” when it comes to event suggestions, but some might not be held if they cannot find a commissioner to run the event or find a venue to host it.

Because of the diversity of sports and the need for multiple venues to host the events, the events are held around the South Sound area. “We have to pay for most of the venues we use,” Kiley says, and the board strives to find the best venue possible to give the participants the best experience possible. He adds that “the venues like the idea of being part of the games.” As an example of the event sites this year, softball is held in at the Mason County Recreational Area, soccer at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey and shuffleboard at the Little Creek Casino in Shelton.

Athlete participating in bowling at the Washington State Senior Games

Photo courtesy of Washington State Senior Games

With the WSSG being an all-volunteer nonprofit, they depend upon outside funding to support the games. The majority of funding comes from the lodging tax collected in the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. Kiley adds that over 30 businesses and governments— including the Nisqually Indian Tribe, Panorama, and Olympics West Retirement Inn—participate significantly to make the games a success. The athletes also support the games through their registration fee.

While it has been suggested to host the games elsewhere in Western Washington, Kiley says the board likes the idea that the games are held in the state capitol. The WSSG are a “significant event in a smaller area,” which means we can attract more attendees, he says.

Though the opening ceremony is July 26 at the Tumwater High School Stadium, several events are being held this weekend, including softball and ballroom dance. Of all the games, Kiley says that softball comprises of one-third (around 600) of the total participants. Track and field has the second highest number of participants at 200. For many of the events, there is an equal participation of the sexes, but “I would love to have more women’s softball and basketball teams,” Kiley says, which only have men teams.

WA State Senior Games - Javelin

Photo courtesy of Washington State Senior Games

With 2014 a qualifying year for the 2015 National Senior Games, Kiley expects there likely will be more participants competing. He says what makes the games unique is the sight of grandparents being cheered on by their families; it is “really a great reverse for the lives of most of us,” seeing the young folks actively cheering us—“it is very sobering and very delightful to see.”

Kiley recommends that those who are interested in participating should visit the WSSG website and take a look at the available events. He also adds that seniors who want to learn how to train should talk with our volunteers and they will be connected with others involved in the sport.

For Kiley, he played tennis in the games during the 2000s. When someone learned he was retired, they asked him to join as a treasurer, which led into the administration, he explains. With most of the board members still working, Kiley takes on many of the responsibilities in managing the day-to-day tasks of organizing the games. And though, at 75, he has every right to enjoy a work-free retirement, Kiley embraces the work because there is “a lot of satisfaction putting the games together, to give these committed senior men and women a chance to compete against their peers.”

Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com. In addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWest, The Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

Are Marketers Missing the Mark When It Comes to Baby Boomers?

Marketing

Baby Boomers outspend other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods and services.  In fact, with Baby Boomers accounting for 35% of the American adult population and the 55+ age group controlling more than ¾ of America’s wealth, you would think that they would continue to be a marketer’s dream.  These facts and statistics support Steve Gillon’s claim in Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever, and How It Changed America that almost from the time they were conceived, Baby Boomers were dissected, analyzed, and pitched to by modern marketers who reinforced the sense of generational distinctiveness.

So, with all of the Baby Boomers’ control over personal financial assets and consumer spending in the United States, why is Peter Hubbell, CEO of the BoomAgers ad agency, telling marketers to wake up when it comes to Baby Boomers and arguing in his new book that boomers are a bust for most brands today?

In a recent interview with Richard Eisenberg for Forbes, Hubbell explains that every time he goes out and speaks, boomers tell him they are really frustrated about advertising, and some are angry.  They see ads with pop culture icons they don’t even know selling brands they have been buying for years, and they’ve had enough.  Hubbell admits that he has switched his jeans allegiance to J.L. Powell from Levi’s because he is out of Levi’s marketing cohort, with ads featuring “tattooed kids with messy hair, ripped clothing and pierced skin making out in the back of the car.”

Hubbell contends that Madison Avenue only worships consumers until age 50 and then ignores them.  But, with the beginning of the new era that Hubbell has coined “The Age of Aging,” the last of the boomers will turn 50 and leave the portion of market that advertisers have declared matters most: ages 18 to 49.  He firmly holds that marketers need to “get old” because in a few short years there will be more people over age 65 than under age 5 for the first time in world history, and there is “no other global trend that will do more to affect global economies than The Age of Aging.”

Baby Boomers

If marketers are going to do it right, they are going to have to understand that boomers desire to be current and have “FOMO – a Fear of Missing Out.”  A recent Transamerica Retirement Survey found that 65% of boomers either plan to work past 65 or don’t plan to retire, yet few employers are helping their older employees transition to semi-retirement.  Only 21% of the survey respondents said their firms have a program in place to help employees shift from full- to part-time.  And, only 41% of boomers said they’ve kept their skills current, which would be another huge business opportunity for companies that could help boomers stay current with their skills.  Another way companies could benefit would be designing eldercare benefits for employees.

Jim Gilmartin, an expert on marketing and sales to boomers and a principal at Coming of Age, which provides interactive/online marketing services to clients eager to connect with boomers and senior customers, shares many of Hubbell’s sentiments.  He noticed Baby Boomers were being dismissed by Super Bowl ads and devised seven boomer attributes that advertisers should keep in mind to attract lucrative boomer customers:

1.    We demand facts – Boomers want more facts and less hyperbole.

2.    First impressions are more likely to be permanent compared with younger consumers – Boomers react more quickly with negativity and lack of interest than people in their 20s and 30s.  Positive first impressions often result in more faithful boomer customers.

3.    We’re less self-oriented and more altruistic than the younger generation, too – Boomers have a shift toward stronger spiritual values and a greater concern for others; remember, our narcissistic and materialistic values wane in influence.

4.    We spend more time making purchasing decisions – Boomers often ignore time-stamped offers, so don’t bother with the “offer good until…” business.

5.    We see fewer differences between competing products – Boomers typically believe most items in a category are basically the same.

6.    We’re less sensitive to price and more sensitive to value – Boomers combine our spiritual, intellectual, and tangible values when deciding if a product is worth buying; the purchase experience becomes a projection of our whole being.

7.    We’re interested in much more than just a product’s features and benefits – Emotions are the driving forces behind boomers’ purchasing decisions.

So, boomers don’t want to be younger.  They don’t want to be ignored.  They don’t want to be thought of as being less valuable or opposed to new choices and behaviors.  And they certainly don’t want to be treated like the younger demographic because their boomer generation is a brand in itself.  Learning something new and doing something new makes boomers happiest, because they are able to feel smarter, younger, modern, and current.  And this is where companies need to direct their marketing if they are going to reap the potential benefits of The Age of Aging.

Images via Flickr by 401(k) and Quinn Dombrowski
Post by Angela Stringfellow

Senior Housing Assistance Group’s Community Life Foundation Helps Seniors to Age in Place

SHAG's Community Life FoundationIn an earlier article, I highlighted Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) and their efforts to create more affordable housing communities for seniors in the Puget Sound region. However, this is does not fully address the additional services their aging residents may need to remain independent. This need served as the impetus for the creation of the Community Life Foundation.

“What keeps you up at night?” Through a series of one-on-one interviews and resident group meetings, Executive Director Jay Woolford learned just that. “I saw that as our resident population was aging, life changes were requiring more support to maintain independence,” and the looming challenge was to find a way to support them, he says. This realization caused a paradigm shift at SHAG, with the board recognizing the strategic need to evolve beyond providing affordable housing to also creating the connections to enable their residents to remain independent as they age in place.

Creating these connections is the mission of the Community Life Foundation (CLF), a nonprofit SHAG-affiliated board that started in 2012. The reason for its being a separate entity from SHAG was we saw the need to really grow it and create a specific focus, Woolford explains, and the two overarching necessities the CLF fulfills are connecting residents with community resources and increasing SHAG’s support of its residents.

Resident Services Manager for SHAG-Annie Jacobsen

Annie Jacobsen, SHAG’s Resident Services Manager (Photo courtesy of SHAG)

How this looks at the community level is taking shape through a pilot program at The Terrace. At this downtown Seattle residence, SHAG partnered with Legacy House—a nearby community that provides assisted living services and housing to low-income seniors in the International District—to develop an educational wellness program and bring in nursing support for their residents. CLF funding created the new position of a resident service coordinator to serve as an advocate and liaison between residents and community resources. While the local Area Agencies on Aging can provide guidance on the availability of community resources, Woolford says accessing those resources requires individuals to pick up the phone and ask for help—an action many residents are reluctant to take for a variety of reasons.

During the resident interviews, Woolford observed that many residents were veterans, and he saw a real need to better support them. Using CLF funding they started a veterans outreach program that spans all SHAG communities. This program is staffed with a resident services coordinator whose sole responsibility is to assist veterans.

With CLF’s pilot programs in their second year, Woolford recognizes that they are “still in the trust-building stage.” They rely upon building managers to alert coordinators when residents are at risk of losing their apartment, whether due to hoarding practices or the inability to live safely. When a need for further support is observed, the coordinators work with the residents and match them to resources.

A holistic approach is taken when developing CLF programs because “we recognize that being active and engaged is a critical part of healthy aging,” Woolford says. At the Green River Court Apartments and Arrowhead Gardens, Enhance®Fitness programming is provided through a partnership with ProjectEnhance, a nonprofit that develops health-promotion programs for seniors. While the program requires an ongoing effort to encourage participation in the weekly exercise classes, Woolford reports seeing sustained and steady levels of attendance. A partnership with Lifelong and their Chicken Soul Brigade and Pots and Plans programs brings nutrition and cooking classes to The Terrace’s residents, while a pilot partnership with Volunteers of America creates a community-wide dining experience, expanding upon the current community potlucks that SHAG sponsors.

Another aspect of expanding CLF is developing partnerships with other nonprofit organization to facilitate connecting residents to the services needed to age in place. We are “connecting with community partners who are now elated to work with us” and actively finding organizations that are important to our residents, such as the local churches and veterans groups, says Rebecca Winn, SHAG’s communication coordinator. One of these organizations is Hopelink whose transportation services are a necessity for seniors who are unable to drive and cannot access public transit. Transportation is critical, and we are working with Hopelink to study what can be done to assist seniors, Winn says. Through CLF, SHAG acquired retired Metro commuter vans to provide transportation assistance at five communities.

Womens Making Art program at SHAG’s Courtland Place

Residents participating in the Womens Making Art program at SHAG’s Courtland Place (Photo courtesy of SHAG)

Yet building partnerships extends beyond matching residents to community services, and also involves connecting SHAG residents with the neighborhood. Through SouthEast Effective Development (SEED), women at the Rainier Terrace collaborated on an art project with other women in the surrounding neighborhood. With diverse backgrounds participating in the project, translators were brought in to help facilitate, and Winn says that with the help of a translator, one of their SHAG residents—who only spoke Mandarin—could finally talk with her neighbors.

With the success of this project, Woolford wants to develop other programs so SHAG residents can become involved in activities, such as partnering with local elementary schools to create mentoring programs, but he recognizes that the challenge is not only taking the leap to test partnerships, but to overcome residents’ skepticism.

Even with resident support, Woolford views scalability and management of the partnerships as the largest obstacle. The resident services coordinator and resident life coordinator positions are essential components and their funding is provided by the CLF. Currently, CLF is funded through the annual Spokes for Folks fundraiser, but Woolford would like to diversify their funding sources—including grants—because the necessities that CLF fulfills will only increase as the number of seniors requiring assistance rises. This is “a national conversation that everyone is having,” he says, and it represents a fundamental shift of asking what senior housing is and what it means.

Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com, and in addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWest, The Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

Studies Show Caregivers Benefit from Community-Based Respite Care

Even caregivers are human, and sometimes they need respite to ward off exhaustion, isolation, and that overwhelming feeling caused by immense responsibilities.

It’s also important to keep in mind that caregivers who work too hard without a break can suffer other adverse affects, such as increased blood pressure and stress levels, or get to the breaking point and do something to harm the loved one in their care.

Several types of respite care

There are various types of respite available to caregivers.  One of the simplest options is the Five-Minute Respite advocated by Brenda Avadian, MA.  The Executive Director of The Caregiver’s Voice, Avadian founded the organization in 1998 while caring for her father who lived with Alzheimer’s.

She encourages caregivers to give themselves the realistic respite of five minutes by walking away into another room or, if possible, outside for a breath of fresh air when tempers flare and frustrations rise.

While Avadian jokes about the alternative, a “state-mandated vacation” when the caregiver loses control with the care recipient, she makes an important point about caregiving: it is not easy and caregivers deserve a break, a respite.

Plan ahead to give yourself a break

Access to Respite Care and Help (ARCH) advocates for respite that is combined with other services and assistance because it will be most effective for caregivers and care recipients alike.  Additionally, respite services are most beneficial if you consider them before you think you will need them, so that you use them before you get too exhausted or overwhelmed.

By planning ahead, you will have more meaningful and purposeful respite time and be able to provide safe and enjoyable care for the care receiver.

Respite has positive impacts

A review in Health Evidence reports that evidence exists from various studies that respite for caregivers of frail, elderly people has positive effects upon caregivers in terms of burden and mental or physical health.

Overall, caregivers were satisfied with respite care.  And, it’s important to note that day care was reported as being at least as costly as usual care.

Adult Day Care is one common resource for respite careAdult day care center

Adult day care centers, also known as adult day services, have been providing respite for caregivers for decades.  These services have been expanding in recent years as demand has increased and also as various funding sources have become available.

Adult day care centers also provide health services, therapeutic services, and social activities for people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, chronic illness, traumatic brain injuries, developmental disabilities, and other challenges that increase care needs.

Generally, care recipients attend the program for several hours a day, up to five days a week.  Most do not offer weekend services, but some may offer half-day or part-time services on Saturdays.

Choosing an Adult Day Care provider

ARCH also offers guidelines for choosing an adult day care center.  Quality adult day care programs should …

  • Conduct an individual needs assessment before admission to determine the person’s range of abilities and needs
  • Provide an active program that meets the daily social, recreational, and rehabilitative needs of the person in care
  • Develop an individualized treatment plan for participants and monitor it regularly, adjusting the plan as necessary
  • Provide referrals to other needed community services
  • Have clear criteria for service and guidelines for termination based on the functional status of the person in care
  • Provide a full range of in-house services, which may include personal care, transportation, meals, health screening and monitoring, educational programs, counseling, and rehabilitative services
  • Provide a safe, secure environment
  • Use qualified and well-trained volunteers
  • Adhere to or exceed state and national standards and guidelines

Resources for finding Respite Care:

Image via Flickr by Fairfax County
Post by Angela Stringfellow

 

No Limits: National Parks are More Accessible than You Think

Senior-friendly features at the WWII Memorial

World War II Memorial – Washington, DC (Photo courtesy of NCA)

Summer is here, and a visit to a nearby national park is an easy way to combine the outdoors and history all in one trip. With 401 sites comprising the National Park System (NPS) across the United States, visiting a historic site, battlefield or national park is easier than most people realize. And a hike to the backcountry isn’t required to see the best views. Whether you use a scooter, cane or wheelchair, many national parks allow you the same experience and viewing delights as those without limited mobility.

Every visitor benefits from accessibility features in parks, says Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist at the NPS, and they are often in forms that people likely aren’t even aware of—such as benches spaced along a trail, little change in elevation along walking paths, scenic features spaced nearby, and accessible bathrooms. These can all impact the visiting experience, especially for people who can only stand for short periods of time without difficulty.

Hawaii National Park Boardwalk

The Hawaii Volcano boardwalk trail – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was a 2005 Accessibility Award winner. (Photo courtesy of Ray Bloomer, NPS)

With the first parks designed initially for wagons and later automobiles, most parks have a scenic drive that allows visitors to see its features, Kupper explains, adding that overlooks are at the best place to see views that “take your breath away.” She says that after exploring the parks for better views, Ken Burns often returned to overlooks to film scenic vistas for his documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The nature trails around the visitor center also provide a “good thumbprint” of what the park holds. Since many people venture only a quarter mile or so down a trail before turning back, these shorter trails are designed so visitors can see features right away.

The NPS’s formal focus on accessibility started in 1979 with the creation of the Accessibility Office. It has remained a priority ever since, especially under the current director Jonathan B. Jarvis, who is a “strong proponent of accessibility,” says Ray Bloomer, an accessibility specialist for the NPS and director of education and technical assistance for the National Center on Accessibility. A national accessibility taskforce is currently developing a five-year strategy to improve accessibility in the NPS. The focus is on everything a visitor can benefit from, whether it is physical or programmatic accessibility, such as providing educational materials in large-print, Bloomer says.

Pearl Harbor

An example of programmatic accessibility at The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. (Photo courtesy of Ray Bloomer, NPS)

The agency also has an annual Accessibility Award program that serves the dual purpose of recognizing people and parks who have improved accessibility and encouraging employees to do more. Since the awards program started in 1998, Bloomer reports that “awareness has been increasing on a daily basis.” Past winners include Yosemite National Park and Cabrillo National Monument, along with the Gulf Islands National Seashore and World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

On each park’s website, the accessibility features are available under the Plan Your Visit tab. For example, on the Yosemite National Park web page, there is an accessibility guide and a visual guide for people with aphasia. “I’m still very proud of how the rangers and volunteers represent the NPS,” Bloomer says, adding that to create the best experience, he encourages people to contact the park prior to visiting, because the NPS “want[s] everyone to have a good visit.”

Broadmoor Seniros at Sutro Baths

Field trips to nearby National Parks are a favorite activity of residents at The Broadmoor in San Francisco. Here they are are at Sutro Baths, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (Photo courtesy of Ken Johnson)

Good visits are always what the seniors at The Broadmoor, an independent living community for active seniors in San Francisco, experience. Along with his responsibilities of Property Manager, Ken Johnson also coordinates outside activities, and his residents enjoy trips to the nearby national parks, such as Yosemite, Sutro Baths at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Muir Woods. “They tell me where they want to go,” he says, and adds that if he plans to bring a large group to the park, he will call in advance to book a tour. Johnson has always found NPS staff accommodating and helpful whenever his groups visit, always answering the questions his residents ask. And he always makes sure the gift shop is open before scheduling a visit, since his residents like to browse for souvenirs and purchase snacks.

It is not only accessibility features that make national parks an appealing destination for seniors, however. One enticing incentive is the lifetime pass, Kupper says. For only $10, seniors can purchase a pass that can be used for free entrance to sites administered by the NPS, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. For an added bonus, the pass applies to people traveling with them.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

A tactile display at The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, a 2004 Accessibility Award winner. (Photo courtesy of Ray Bloomer, NPS)

Every park has accessible features, not just the large parks, Kupper explains, and while Bloomer acknowledges that not every park is 100 percent accessible, the NPS is actively identifying deficiencies. What complicates the issue is the need to maintain a “balance [of] historic preservation and accessibility,” and he adds that staff also has to consider what can be sustained aesthetically within the natural surroundings.

When you plan your visit it is important to check the park’s accessibility features, and also consider the time of day and year. Bloomer says that while the Statute of Liberty is accessible, there are few places to sit if the lines are long. And when in doubt, do not hesitate to ask the NPS staff for advice.

So what are you waiting for: Find a park and head out!

If you are interested visiting parks that have many accessible features, Bloomer has provided this sample list of some parks.

Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com, and in addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWest, The Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

Giving Male Caregivers the Credit They Deserve

1 in 9 Americans age 65 and older (11% of the population) has Alzheimer’s disease.  It is also estimated that among people age 71 and older, 16% of women have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, compared with only 11% of men.  Of the 5.2 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.2 million, or two-thirds, are women. The numbers translate to millions of men being left to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that more than 6 million men, almost twice as many as 15 years ago, are caring for someone with those types of cognitive diseases.

caregiving

As Director of Family and Community Services of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Jan Dougherty has seen the toll caring for family members with Alzheimer’s takes on loved ones.  She characterizes the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s as a “life-altering experience for everyone impacted,” but she notes the distinct differences between male and female caregivers in “Recognizing Heroes at Home: Male Caregivers.”

1.    Processing an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Dougherty has seen women process an Alzheimer’s diagnosis on a more emotional level, while men process it more functionally.  While women need to understand and cope with the diagnosis and what it means for all parties involved, men see the diagnosis as a problem and immediately try to find a solution.

2.    Coping with the Stress of Caregiving

Men handle the stress of caregiving more easily than women.  Women increase their stress levels by having constant worry and anxiety, but men can complete their caregiving tasks and move on.

3.    Seeking Outside Help

Women tend to shoulder all of the responsibilities of caregiving, but men are more willing to call friends, family, and professionals for help.  They quickly ask for resources and additional support.

4.    Handling Daily Tasks

The women typically are more able to juggle the daily duties of a house – cooking and cleaning and laundry – with caregiving than men.  Men have difficulty cooking and coordinating their wives’ clothing and makeup.  Much of these issues stem from the generation of caregiver currently tending to loved ones; they come from the generation of traditional roles in marriage.

Male caregivers are not just caring for loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer’s, though.  A 2012 analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that men represented as many as 45% of all family caregivers.  Many of these male caregivers aid their parents and spouses.  And, Sherri Snelling’s “The Rapid Rise of the Male Caregiver” points out that there are some benefits to having male caregivers: men often are more assertive when advocating for loved ones with doctors and hospital staff.  They demand straight answers about the condition of their loved ones.

Male caregivers also take advantage of support groups, as evidenced by Ed Mitchell’s support group Men Who Care, at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and the number of online support groups for male caregivers.

Online Support Groups:

Overall, men are stepping up to take on caregiving roles in record-breaking numbers.  They may not be considered “traditional” caregivers, but they are certainly just as dedicated and determined to provide loving care to their family members as female caregivers.

For Further Reading:

Image via Flickr by Anita Gould
Post by Angela Stringfellow