Specialist in Issues of Midlife & Older Adults

Monthly Archives: June 2012

Neighbor is a Verb

Neighbor is a Verb


My 91 year old mother uses the word “neighbor” as a verb. As in, “People don’t neighbor here anymore”. She grew up and has lived most of her life in an era when people didn’t lock their doors and neighbors came over unannounced for a friendly cup of coffee or to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar.


She bemoans the fact that in her later years in an upscale retirement neighborhood in Scottsdale and now even in a good-sized retirement home, people tend to keep to themselves, valuing (apparently) their privacy.


My husband and I live in a small apartment complex that we manage. We have screened our renters and have a wonderful, stable group of 8 families. We have patio garden and deck areas filled with growning fruit, flowers, veggies and.. children! It is alive, and there are multi-generations living and enjoying each other here.


I bring this up because last week a new UCSF research study came out that has spread like wild fire around the Net and print media. It was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. UC Health describes the results in: Loneliness Linked to Serious Health Problems, Death Among Elderly.


NPR’s Michael Krasny interviewed one of the study’s authors, Carla Perissinotto, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics and Karyn Skultety, director of clinical and community services for the Institute on Aging in an excellent radio piece: Loneliness in Later Years.


UCSF researchers interviewed 1,600 participants and asked them basically three questions:


Do you feel left out?
Do you feel isolated?
Do you have companionship in your life?


These questions address issues of loneliness. Note that loneliness is not the same thing as depression which is more about a lack of enjoyment, energy and motivation.


It’s important to note, and something that surprised the researchers (but not those of us who work with older people), that people can be very lonely even though surrounded by people as in an assisted living facility. It’s about the *quality* of relationships, not the *quantity*.


Back to my mother’s use of the word “neighbor” as a verb. Recently, a print poster has been making the rounds in the media called “How to Build Community”. One of the to-do items listed that especially caught my eye was “Sit on your front stoop”.


How many of us do that in our neighborhoods anymore? Granted not all of us have front stoops! But, even metaphorically, have we gotten so insular and isolated and fearful of our privacy that we no longer know and look out for our neighbors?


“Aging in Place” or “Aging in Community” initiatives that I’ve been writing about are initiatives sweeping the country that are two answers to the isolation and loneliness people are experiencing, especially for those who are becoming predominantly homebound.


“Neighbor” is a verb. How can we begin to use it in our communities to help not only those of us who are growing older and becoming less mobile but also overwhelmed single parents, latch key children, kids with no grandparents nearby, widows, etc.


Perhaps, as the poster creator lists, we can “turn off our TV’s, sit on our front stoops, greet people, organize a block party, know our neighbors, hire young people for odd jobs, have a potluck, and dance in the streets”.

Loneliness Leads to Serious Health Risks for Seniors

In findings published recently from a UCSF study, researchers were surprised to find that even people who don’t live alone can be very lonely.


Many of us who provide counseling for residents in retirement homes find this to be true.  Individuals can be living surrounded by many other co-residents and still feel massively lonely.


This loneliness, the UCSF study found, can result in a significant 59 percent greater risk of physical decline. Even worse, the hazard risk for severe loneliness was found to lead to a 45 percent greater risk of death.


This points to the need for support for older adults in terms of understanding, empathy, attention, and genuine caring and engagement. Buddy systems for new residents of retirement communities is something often found to help introduce the new resident to potential new friends in their new homes.  


Most importantly now, though, is for health professionals and caring communities to first realize the severe impact of loneliness on the physical, cognitive and emotional health of their beloved elders.


For more information, click here to read the entire article on the UCSF study:


Loneliness linked to serious health problems, death among elderly


Neighbors Helping Neighbors: Online Community for “Tweeniors” and Older Adults in Marin

Neighbors Helping Neighbors: Building an Online Information/Community Hub in Marin


Prior to my career as a Marriage & Family Therapist, and gerontologist, I was involved in starting and growing several online communities. I have seen the tremendous benefits to individuals of a well-organized online information hub focused on the needs and interests of a particular demographic or special interest group.


This type of Online Information Resource Center assembles links, reviews and articles in an easily searchable, Central Hub to provide ease-of-use and convenience to the target population. I think we need such a Hub in Marin.


A vibrant, free, online information hub focused on older adults, adult children of older parents, baby boomers, “tweeniors”, and sandwich generation-ers – focused on life in Marin – would link Marinites up to the rich range of excellent resources, services, service providers, products, agencies and activities we have right here in our own backyards.


Plus, we would be able to share with each other how we have solved the wide variety of challenges and successes that come with growing older in general and in our local communities. We participants could serve as a kind of living encyclopedia of help and answers and ideas. Which leads me to the topic of…


Social Media (Online Community) Building Friendships


What we now call social media and used to call online community is a central part of such a community and demographic-focused web site. Members will come, attracted to the information resources, and stay, becoming participants, because of the supportive and interesting community of others with similar concerns and interests. Support and bonds and connections and friendships grow.


There are many examples of successful online communities which offer wonderful stories of mutual support. Some of you may remember The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which started in Sausalito in the 1980’s as a pioneering and legendary online community affiliated with the Whole Earth Review magazine. The WELL is still thriving and some of its members have been friends online now for 25 years. Dupont Circle Village offers a thriving senior online community as part of its Village membership in the DC area.


Older Population Thriving & Online Too


We are the fastest aging county in California. The fastest growing part of our population is the 85+ age group. Older people are turning to social media tools in droves. Something like 18,000,000 U.S. Facebook users are 55 and older.


For those older people who are not online, some simple and gentle classes and instruction would introduce them to the potential benefits of learning how to access resources and friends/family. I believe it would be empowering for them to at least have the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether the tools are for them or not.


Help! How Do We Find Answers?


The main complaint I hear from older people and their adult children or other loved ones is that they have an extremely difficult time finding answers and help for the dilemmas they are facing. They don’t know where to turn and when they do find phone numbers, they encounter what feels like a land of endless voice mail.


Many older people end up going to the ER’s with problems that would have been easily preventable if they had had help, knowledge, answers and support earlier on.


Isolation is a Major Health Issue


In addition, isolation becomes a tremendous issue for our older people as they experience vision impairment or physical conditions that prevent them from driving. Their worlds start to shrink.


We are blessed to have Whistlestop Wheels in Marin but it is important to note that Whistlestop is ADA paratransit – thus it is not senior transit – it is disabled transit with a rigorous screening process.


Isolation affects so many quality of life issues for seniors – it can lead to loneliness and depression, decline in cognitive capability and even lead to poor nutrition if the individual has no easy access to groceries and little inspiration to eat well-balanced meals.


An Invaluable Tool in Communication Toolkits


Vibrant online communities can provide a bridge between homebound people, give answers to those who are looking for ideas and shared personal experiences, referrals and tips for places to go for help, and friendly connections that can grow into friendships.


Experienced managers train volunteer moderators in conversation and group facilitation and various writing and administration tools. Online policies are crafted, posted and enforced to prevent scam artists from taking hold. Webinars and a host of free online classes can be offered.


Neighbors Helping Neighbors: An Online Information/Community Hub


As our federal, state and county budgets decrease, and at the same time our population is aging (“the Silver Tsunami” we’ve all heard about), what will be our plans for taking care of ourselves as we grow older? Will we choose to “age in place” or, as its being referred to now, “age in community”?


Will we need to look after each other along the lines of what our parents and grandparents did in smaller towns and closer-knit neighborhoods across the country?


Many people think so. There is a growing Village movement across the US and a growing NORC movement (NORC = Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities). These movements represent efforts by thousands of people in hundreds of communities to come up with ways to support each other as we get older.


We in Marin can also look out for each other as we grow older. We only need a will to do so. As I wrote last week for the Patch, the Mill Valley Village will join the group of 4 other Marin Villages (Ross Valley, Homestead Valley, Tiburon/Belvedere and Sausalito) later this year.


As we come up with a variety of ways to help each other out, we will benefit from a full use of a variety of communication tools to help us connect and collaboratively develop answers and support:


  • face to face events to facilitate information exchange and relationships
  • telephone help lines staffed by live operators
  • an up-to-date central online information resource hub on aging in Marin
  • vibrant and thriving grassroots online communities that offer us the ability to connect, form and maintain strong and caring relationships


Anybody else interested in exploring these possibilities? I’d love to hear from you!

Have You Heard of NORC’s = Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities

NORC’s = Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities


Not Exactly like the Village Model


Recently, I’ve been involved with the Village Movement and working on organizing a new Village in my home town. I’ve been a fan of the Villages idea for years since I learned about the Beacon Hill Village where the movement started in 2002.


The Village model involves a local grassroots, nonprofit Village forming where members join for annual fees ranging from $200-900 across the country and then have access to a range of services. Members join in activities together, recommend service providers to each other, are provided with a very well screened list of other service providers, provide volunteer services for each other, and can receive a host of volunteer services themselves.


The NORC’s, from what I understand, are a little different. They range in shape and size across the country so each of them are a little different, too, reflecting their communities and members. There is no membership fee so the NORC’s are usually affiliated with a not for profit organization, government grants, donors and other fund-raising sources that allow them to offer services for no charge to members.


NORC Movement Founder Fredda Vladeck


The founder of the first NORC is Fredda Vladeck whose wonderful interview I read yesterday: Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities: An Interview with Fredda Vladeck.  


Fredda was a geriatric social worker in NYC in the mid-1980’s and began to notice a lot of older people coming in to the ER with issues that could have easily been addressed – and prevented – at home if they had had the support and knowledge.


Many of these people lived at Penn South Mutual Redevelopment Houses in Chelsea, a cooperative housing development built in 1962 by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. There were 6,200 residents with 5,000 them seniors.  


Many of them were old labor organizers who had devoted their lives to the unions and so did not have traditional family support systems. Fredda designed a unique program to empower these people to age in place – her program became known as a NORC.  Now there are dozens in NYC alone and hundreds across the US.




The NORC’s are not just located in housing complexes, there are also NORC WOW’s – Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities Without Walls in communities such as the St Louis NORC which consists of a 3 square mile neighborhood.  NORC’s typically have over 50% of the population as older adults and can result from:

  • In-migration: a location where retirees move because of things like access to services and quality of life,
  • Evolution: where a community naturally ages together, and
  • Out-migration: where younger working folks tend to move to other locations leaving older people behind.
For more information about this fascinating “aging in place” movement,  click on http://www.norcs.org/  .

The Trouble With Hearing Aids

The Trouble With Hearing Aids


Many older people I know would say they have had a problematic relationship with hearing aids.


First of all, they cost a fortune – typically about $3000 each – and Medicare doesn’t cover them.


Secondly, they get lost so easily! They’re tiny and one lady I know lost hers in her sheets and it all got put in the retirement home laundry, never to be found again. 


And lastly, they are tricky to get fitted, to get used to, and oftentimes they don’t work that well, especially at first. It’s important to find a top-notch provider and to have patience through trial experiments and fittings.


Here’s the toughest problem, though, and it’s not about the hearing aids – it’s about hearing loss.


Without good hearing, older people start to feel more and more isolated. As their hearing deteriorates, it’s challenging for them to hear much at all in public spaces where ambient noise is present – places such as church, restaurants, auditoriums. So, they tend not to go out anymore which leads to isolation and loneliness.


So older people experiencing hearing loss are in a bit of a Catch-22. They need to be able to hear in order to participate fully in relationships and their social lives.  And they need to be able to find one that works that they can afford.  


Here’s a good article published by Consumer Reports called How to Select a Hearing Aid Provider. Its full of good tips and can help an older person and/or their family take some first steps towards getting help. 

Are We Giving Up on our Oldest Adults Benefiting from the Internet?

The Digital Have-Not’s – Our Oldest Adults – Closing the Gap


(Click on the link above to read a good summary of this issue written by blogger Laurie Orlov.)


Are we as a society just giving up on the 75+ age group as far as encouraging and teaching them about the valuable information, tools, and community they can find online?


People point out there is scarce funding to reach these people – they are the digital have-not’s. I think they are the digital “would be’s” if there were helpers to teach them about the benefits (connection with friends and family, health information, interesting stories, etc.) of online and to teach them how.


Locally-focused online communities focused on aging, grassroots reviews leading to accountability of service and product providers, social connection, information-sharing… this has to be one answer. Again, with some help to teach how.

Patients with Rare Diseases Jump-Start Research thru Social Media

Patients with “Orphan Diseases” Find Each Other Using Social Media Online & Jump Start Research


People who have “orphan diseases” (extremely rare diseases) often find that their local MD’s know very little about their disease because they may have never encountered it in their practice.


Some patients are taking matters into their own hands and finding each other online through social media to exchange information, experiences, and even spur researchers to do clinical trials.


Here’s one such success story about a young woman with a rare disease who found 70 other patients with her disease from around the world and inspired an MD (Dr. Sharonne Hayes) at Mayo Clinic to undertake new clinical trials


Listen to the story here on NPR Morning Edition: Patients Find Each Other Online to Jump-Start Medical Research.


Some quotes from the story:

“Hayes set up a virtual patient registry and allowed patients from all over the world submit their  medical records and scans online. In the first trial, Mayo enrolled 12 patients — and had to turn people away.

The rise of social media has allowed patients to do for themselves what researchers like Hayes can’t: spread information about research. Through their personal Facebook pages, chat rooms and message boards, patients are recruiting each other in a kind of virtual word-of-mouth.

This is not investigator-initiated research, this is patient-initiated research,” Hayes says, “and to  a certain extent has been patient-sustained research in the case of our study.”

Mill Valley’s Senior’s Club Going Strong at 17 Years Old – for Boomers & Better!

Mill Valley’s Senior’s Club Going Strong at 17 Years Old – for Boomers & Better!


 I suspect that many of you might not know about the Mill Valley Senior’s Club that’s been thriving at the MV Community Center for 11 years now in the new Center (and 6 at the old rec center). 


This morning I met with K.C. Wilgenbush, Mill Valley’s Senior Services Coordinator – K.C. is a born-and-raised-in-Marinite who recognized early in her life how much she enjoys being around older adults. She studied and interned in social human services, and is warm, friendly and knowledgable about all sorts of fun events and useful services for Mill Valley older adults.


The Senior’s Club is a friendly group of adults 55+ – currently it has 260 members. The Club bases out of the Rec Center Terrace Room. Membership is not required to participate in the activities in the Senior Terrace Lounge, however a $25 annual membership fee includes a monthly newsletter listing all club activities, trips and special events.


 Members meet every day of the week for a range of activities including standards like bridge, poker, bingo and scrabble and newer table games such as rummikub and skip-bo. A lively group of “Crafty Crafters” meets on Mondays and the “Nifty Knitters” meet on Thursdays.


The Senior’s Club is able to take advantage of the entire Community Center premises with classes such as Introductory Tai Chi and (the very popular) Intermediate Tai Chi class, pole walking and“Zumba Gold” (Latin and international dance rhythms) in the large Cascade Room, and Water Walking in the beautiful glassed-in pool.


This fall there will be new classes in:


  • Conversational German 
  • Conversational Italian
  • AARP Driver Safety Renewal Course (4 1/2 hrs)
  • Lip Reading
  • Candle Decorating
  • Being an Effective Healthcare Advocate
  • Medicare & Baby Boomers


K.C. organizes regular excursions to events such as plays in San Francisco, ballet at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, holiday luncheons at the Basque Cultural Center and day trips to places like Bodega Bay and the Glen Ellen Botanical Gardens.


Longer trips include an upcoming overnight trip to the Silver Legacy Hotel in Reno for the “Great Italian Festival”. In the past, the Senior’s Club has traveled together to the Northeast for fall color tours, NYC, and Alaska. 


For more information, call K.C. at 415-383-1370, ext 107. You can also find more information online at Mill Valley Community Center “Mature Adult Programs”.


This is a great service provided by K.C. and our Parks & Rec Department!