I remember growing up and watching my aging grandmother sit by her living room window, looking out, waiting for nothing in particular to happen – just watching her life pass her by.
That sad, helpless memory always stayed with me, but I was never able to take that sadness and transform it something productive, something that could help people.
Then, 20 years ago, I became involved with the New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well (formerly New Jersey Foundation for Aging).
I joined the organization and first served on an Advisory Council. I then ascended to the Board of Trustees, became its Chair for six years and after my term as Chair expired, I am serving as a Board member again.
Realizing a Wish
I wanted to do something that would make the lives of older adults more meaningful and enriched, so more grandmothers (and grandfathers) would not have to stare out of apartment windows. At the time, then-NJFA, with its emphasis/focus on facilitating seniors to live independently, actively and in their community, gave me the opportunity to realize this wish.
To me, it is the accomplishments and actualization of our vision that is most valuable, as it shows me that we aremaking a difference. Coupled with this is the engagement and dedication of our Board members, who seek to bring those things to life. This is all done in concert with the extremely hard work and devotion of our staff, who move our agenda forward every day. This is why this change in our name, New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, more accurately describes who we are and what we do.
We tend to think that “getting older” is something that is going to happen in the future. However, it is happening every day, and educating yourself about what you and your loved ones are going to face as you live and age in New Jersey, is critical.
Everyone has a right to age well in the community of their choice. As the New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, we will continue to provide leadership in public policy and education and work diligently to ensure that all New Jersey residents can do just that.
Included in NJAAW’s name change is an updated logo and this new website, which is a portal packed with reliable information on programs and services available in New Jersey to help you live life to the fullest.
NJAAW will present educational forums and its Annual Conference (online June 3 and 4) offering development opportunities and best practices for professionals entrusted with caring for seniors. Our award-winning monthly TV talk show, “Aging Insights,” features local and national experts and connects seniors, their families and caregivers to community-based services and resources. The program can be viewed on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/njaaw/ (where you can subscribe and get notified of upcoming topics), here on our website and more than 70 public-access TV channels throughout our state.
This is an historic moment! Nearly 23 years have passed since we were founded. Now, in 2021, we have a new name, a new logo, a new website. Our mission, however, never changes!
New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well. Join me in celebrating and spreading the word!
Mark Tabakman (MTabakman@foxrothschild.com) is a Partner, Labor & Employment Department, at Fox Rothschild, LLP, where he has practiced since 1987. He is conversant in all aspects of employment law and has expertise in wage-hour and overtime law, including defense of employers in numerous DOL audits and wage lawsuits.
You – or someone you care about – are older, and having trouble reading print. The simple act of scanning a printed page visually is now laborious and slow-going. It’s time to get that checked out with the eye doctor.
After running some tests, the doctor’s declaration is all-too-familiar and goes something like this: “You have age-related macular degeneration, which is the #1 cause of vision loss in people over 60 in the U.S. THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO. I AM SORRY.”
Your heart sinks, the floor figuratively falls out from beneath you. Rage, sorrow, grief…all those stages described by Kubler-Ross run through your mind, seemingly at once.
Blindness is one of the lowest-incidence disabilities in the general population, so it’s likely you may not know or have never met a blind person. That doctor must be right; there’s no magic pill or surgery to fix you. Depending on the kind of eye condition you have there may be vitamin therapy or periodic injections into the eye to stave off the loss of more vision. It’s likely, though, that what you have lost will remain so.
Before we continue here, a disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this blog is not intended to dispense medical advice. Know, however, that I have been part of the scenario just described and have personally spent too many years being angry at my diagnosis of juvenile macular degeneration. My hope is that my experience may save you lots of time in the adjustment process. And while you might have been told there is nothing to be done, that is not entirely true.
There are two commonly-held ways that disability (such as blindness) is perceived. One is the medical model: Your vision is diminishing and that eye doc cannot bring it back. That may be the case. Therefore, in some circles, you and your condition represent failure to a medical professional who has been trained to “fix” what is “wrong” with patients. Your eye condition cannot be brought back to 20/20 or whatever your best vision was. So, in a matter of speaking, there is, technically, nothing that medically or surgically can be done.
There is another way, however, that disability is viewed by those of us who have one (or more). Having a disability is just another way to be – a part of the grand spectrum of human diversity. And a disability needs to be accommodated so that a full life can be had, if that is what the person with a disability wants. Many laws guarantee this, including the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act, granting equal access to public places, documents and the like as a civil right.
Yes, You Can…
After your diagnosis, the next step is YOUR choice. You CAN have a great life, continue many of the activities that brought you joy and satisfaction before your diagnosis. Your part is the willingness to try a new way to achieve the same ends.
For example, you enjoy reading the daily paper, adore certain magazines and relish best-sellers. What now? You can’t see the print sufficiently to read it fluently and comfortably. Know that the digital age brings with it opportunities to get the same content by downloading them or playing CD audiobooks and periodicals. You also can use assistive technology – software that magnifies and changes on-screen print fonts and colors or reads the screen content aloud. These are just some of the examples of what is possible. Do you love to hike, take bike trips, ski or travel around the world? I’ve done all of that with my diminishing sight.
Yes, you’re going to need some new skills, tools and techniques, not to mention emotional support from other people who already have or are walking the same path as you.
First, have your doctor tell you if you meet the parameters for “legal blindness” (there is, as far as I know, no illegal blindness!), which is that your best vision, with correction, is 20/200. This means that you see at 20 feet what a person without vision loss sees at 200 feet. (Note that I don’t use the term “normal” here; in my life, normal is just a setting on a washing machine, not a classification of the way anyone sees.)
The other element for the classification of legal blindness is a visual radius of 20 degrees or less. This relates to the radius of what your eye can see.
Most people who meet the criteria for legal blindness do see something. Blindness is a spectrum of the range of one’s functional vision. Only 10 to 15 percent of us blind folks see nothing at all.
NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Legal blindness entitles you to services from your state’s agency dedicated to people who are blind or have low vision. So next, contact the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), which serves people throughout the lifespan. There are offices in Newark, Freehold and Cherry Hill. Their website is www.state.nj.us/humanservices/cbvi/. Call them at 973-648-3333 or toll-free at 1-877-685-8878 and arrange for what is known as an “intake interview.” A caseworker will collect the necessary information and determine whether you need training to continue a job you felt you had to leave because of vision loss, or perhaps you need training for a whole new career, or maybe how to live the life you want.
Have no second thoughts about requesting services from CBVI – you pay taxes and this service is absolutely there for us. Once you become a client, you can get aids and appliances of all sorts, FOR FREE, to make your life easier. A rehabilitation teacher may even come to your home (once the pandemic is over) to help label your stove thermostat, washing machine and the like to make them simpler to use by touch rather than sight.
There also are support groups around the state for people experiencing vision loss. Find one local to you by contacting Susan Vanino, the social worker at CBVI who coordinates the program, at 973-648-2821. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support groups can be so helpful. Their members also are experiencing vision loss and some of the best tricks of the trade, so to speak, come from others who are a few steps ahead on the path. (Many groups continue to meet by conference call, Zoom or similar platforms to keep everyone safe and healthy.)
National Federation of the Blind of NJ
One of the best resources available is the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey (NFBNJ), part of the National Federation of the Blind based in Baltimore. Check them out at www.nfbnj.org. I proudly serve on their Board. Be sure to look at the Senior Division at www.nfbnj.org/chapters-and-divisions/seniors/. This group meets by phone at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of every month. Annual dues are $5.
The 2020 NFBNJ State Convention, taking place Nov. 18 to 21, is virtual this year, and I highly recommend it. It’s free but you must register in advance at www.nfbnj.org/state-convention/. You’ll hear from engaging and informative speakers and learn about the latest in technology, including Smartphones that read the screen content aloud, dial the phone by voice and even coach you on taking a well-framed photo with its camera.
This brief blog easily could become a book so I will stop here. Remember, whether you are diagnosed with macular degeneration or a similar cause of vision loss, the choice of how you will respond is up to you. Be willing to achieve the same ends by using different means. It really works!
I’m happy to answer any questions or receive your comments about this blog. Please leave them here or if you’d prefer, email them to NJFA Communications Manager Sue Brooks at email@example.com. Include your contact information and I’ll reply.
Annemarie Cooke began losing central vision in early adulthood. She has Stargart’s Maculopathy, a congenital form of macular degeneration. A graduate of Douglass College of Rutgers University, she’s a former award-winning investigative and feature reporter for the Daily Home News (now the Home News Tribune). She later joined Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now Learning Ally), where her advocacy work often took her to Washington, D.C. She notes that the advances in assistive technology, combined with the wisdom and fellowship found in several support groups and the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, have helped her grow into a confident mentor in a state transition program for blind and visually impaired NJ high school students. Annemarie and her husband are semi-retired and live in a 55+ community in Burlington County, NJ, where she leads a support group for seniors with vision loss.
This article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.
Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.
This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.
Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index.
“All of these communications would reference the Elder Index,” said Chalker. “It not only allowed us to tell policymakers that 54 percent of older adults in New Jersey have difficulty making ends meet, but a recent related report showed how effective one property tax-relief program in particular was in reducing the economic security gap facing older adults in the state.”
The index, developed and managed at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a free online tool that provides realistic and detailed cost of living data for older adults living in every U.S. county. Combined with state-level income data, the index can also determine the percentage of older adults who have insufficient income to meet the cost of living in their states. UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute published a report on state-by-state elder economic security last November.
The New Jersey Foundation for Aging and the Gerontology Institute have been working together for years to provide state and local leaders with clear data about the economic circumstances of their older citizens. The foundation helped promote legislation enacted in 2015 that requires an elder economic security report based on Elder Index data be maintained by state government as a public resource.
A companion report, prepared with Rutgers University and a consultant, analyzes racial and ethnic details in the data, as well other factors including the effectiveness of individual state programs in reducing elder economic insecurity.
“We want to constantly use the Elder Index to remind policymakers and people in state government that there is a need here with older adults,” said Chalker. “Whether it’s the SNAP nutrition program, housing or prescription drug prices, we’ve been able to send letters and testify at the statehouse on those issues stating the Elder Index data.
“We’ve also used it to arm our partners, whether they are funders, county office on aging staff or senior center staff to help them meet the needs of older adults in their communities,” she said.
But the foundation had always understood that housing expenses played an outsized role in New Jersey’s elder economic security problem. The online index can help anyone get sense of those dimensions in just a couple of clicks.
Here’s how: Enter New Jersey and national average queries for older couples in good health who own their own home without a mortgage. You’ll find total monthly expenses more than 20 percent higher in New Jersey, compared with the national average. Housing costs, almost double the national average in New Jersey, account for nearly all of the overall difference.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signs the state’s budget.
Data like that explain why Chalker and other advocates knew how important it was to save New Jersey’s property tax-relief programs. After a burst of calls, letters and op-ed columns, their efforts paid off last month. Murphy signed a new $32.7 billion budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, preserving both property tax relief programs for the future.
“I think the Elder Index was crucial in terms of the effort,” said Chalker. “You can anecdotally say how hard it is for seniors and tell some very compelling stories. But you’ve got to have metrics if you are making the case to policymakers and the elder economic insecurity reports provided what we needed.”
About the Gerontology Institute The Gerontology Institute conducts research and policy analysis in the field of aging, and offers lifelong learning and pension protection services to older adults. The institute’s priorities include income security, long-term service and supports, healthy aging, age-friendly communities and social and demographic research on aging.
Mornings on the golf course. Weekends with the grandkids. Vacations to dreamed-of destinations.
These are the visions of “successful aging” in many people’s minds, reflections of the one-dimensional view of growing old that is all too pervasive in our culture.
Not that those pretty images of retirement life aren’t experiences that people should desire. But without taking a deeper look at all the potential challenges and opportunities of growing older, many individuals will fail to anticipate later-in-life needs and desires.
In its advocacy work, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging routinely seeks to widen the lens that society trains on the lives and livelihoods of older adults, and the organization’s annual conference this year succeeded in doing just that.
Titled “2020 Vision for Successful Aging,” the conference, held virtually on Aug. 13 and 14, featured presentations on how aging intersects with a range of other policy issues from climate change to LGBTQ rights to immigration policies.
The conference also sought to open attendees’ eyes to the ways in which ageism is so widely normalized and internalized that it can often lead to us making uninformed individual and societal decisions that limit older adults’ choices in later years.
In a keynote address, Cynthia Hutchins, director of financial gerontology for Bank of America Merrill, said people shouldn’t avoid thinking about uncomfortable questions such as how long they might live and whether they will need some form of caregiving at some point.
“Longevity has changed the way we plan for our health and our health-care needs,” Hutchins said.
Previous generations didn’t envision living decades in retirement, but Baby Boomers and the generations that come after them will need to have a better understanding of such things as the limits of Medicare, the different options for long-term care, and how the financial and lifestyle choices they make early on can affect future health and happiness, Hutchins said.
In her presentation, Hutchins pointed out that, although one’s future health might be an unknown, there are useful projections individuals need to be aware of, such as that out-of-pocket health care costs between the ages of 65 and 80 can equal $114,000, and then grow to $247,000 by age 90 and $458,000 by age 100.
Figures like these might seem unbelievable to the average individual, but failing to adequately discuss and plan for future scenarios is what often leads to individuals having inadequate plans, and our government institutions having inadequate policies for the aging of the population.
At the root of our society’s unpreparedness for aging is often ageism, which includes the “prejudice against our future selves” that many of us possess.
Ageism was a focus of several workshops at the two-day conference, some of which examined how it can evolve into elder abuse or translate into a lack of advocacy on key issues that older adults and their advocates should be speaking about more often.
CLIMATE CHANGE + AGING
Climate change is foremost among those issues. Often portrayed as an issue of more concern to younger people worried about the future, what’s often overlooked is the fact that older people are the ones who tend to suffer the most harm from the severe storms and climbing temperatures that are already the result of our warming planet.
Jeanne Herb of the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers Universityshared data showing that older people are at more risk of heat-related hospitalizations and more likely to have chronic conditions exacerbated by severe weather and the power outages and service interruptions that can result from them.
Similarly, older adults and their advocates need to be aware of how immigrants and people in the LGBTQ community are subject to more discrimination and barriers to housing and supportive services as they age, other panelists at the conference argued.
In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the way ageism, and bias toward disenfranchised groups, can lead to alarming disparities in disease exposure and treatment outcomes and to the many gaps and weaknesses in New Jersey’s long-term care systems, many speakers pointed out.
Organizers of the conference hoped that it would serve as a call to action, and ideas were shared on how to combat ageism with intergenerational programming and through the arts.
The study entailed recruiting 72 individuals – ranging in age from 20 to 82 – to perform in skits that reflected age stereotypes. Afterward, participants were surveyed on whether the performances had altered their perceptions of aging and generational differences.
As director of Lifelong Montclair, a now-five-year-old age-friendly community initiative, York said she has come to “recognize the need for culture change as a foundational element of age-friendly efforts.
“As more people understand the scope and value of our work on culture change, I believe our work will be that much more significant, and those battles we face along the way will be that much easier,” York said.
Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation, said the NJFA conference provided many useful insights into how the leaders of age-friendly communities can help change views of aging, and also the steps that community leaders take to support the goal of aging in comfort, dignity, and safety.
“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized. There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City. There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.” ~ Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation
“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized,” Stoumbos said. “There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City. There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.
“Those narrow approaches can sometimes lead to older adults being treated as if they are separate from the rest of the community, as if they are less invested in issues that affect all people at all ages,” Stoumbos said.
“Older adults have no less of a stake in the major issues of the day. They need to be empowered to stay engaged on these subjects, and communities need to make sure they are bringing the generations together in conversations about the weighty issues that affect quality-of-life for all.”
The age-friendly movement was first envisioned by the World Health Organization in 2005 as a way to find local strategies to prepare for the global challenges and opportunities of an aging population. The North Jersey Alliance of Age-Friendly Communitiesis supported by The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation and the Grotta Fund for Senior Care. Together those foundations are funding age-friendly initiatives in 16 communities in five counties – Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Union – which together have a population of more than a half-million people. The alliance also works in partnership with NJFA, AARP New Jersey, New Jersey Future and Rutgers University.
Our communities are like structures that support people’s safety and wellbeing. One of the most important ways we can all contribute to this ongoing construction project is by looking out for warning signs of maltreatment. Does someone you know display any of these signs of abuse? If so, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY. Everyone, at every age, deserves justice. Report suspected abuse as soon as possible.
Emotional & Behavioral Signs
Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
Fear or anxiety
Isolated or not responsive
Broken bones, bruises, and welts
Cuts, sores or burns
Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
Dirtiness, poor nutrition or dehydration
Poor living conditions
Lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, teeth, hearing aid, medications)
Unusual changes in a bank account or money management
Unusual or sudden changes in a will or other financial documents
Fraudulent signatures on financial documents
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?
Elder abuse is the mistreatment or harming of an older person. It can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, along with neglect and financial exploitation. Many social factors—for example, a lack of support services and community resources—can make conditions ripe for elder abuse. Ageism (biases against or stereotypes about older people that keep them from being fully a part of their community) also play a role in enabling elder abuse. By changing these contributing factors, we can prevent elder abuse and make sure everyone has the opportunity to thrive as we age.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT AND ADDRESS ELDER ABUSE?
We can lessen the risk of elder abuse by putting supports and foundations in place that make abuse difficult. If we think of society as a building that supports our wellbeing, then it makes sense to design the sturdiest building we can—one with the beams and load-bearing walls necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy as we age. For example, constructing community supports and human services for caregivers and older adults can alleviate risk factors tied to elder abuse. Increased funding can support efforts to train practitioners in aging-related care. Identifying ways to empower older adults will reduce the harmful effects of ageism. And leveraging expert knowledge can provide the tools needed to identify, address, and ultimately prevent abuse.
HOW CAN WE REPORT SUSPECTED ABUSE?
(This section has been edited to include links specific to NJ.)
No matter how old we are, justice requires that we be treated as full members of our communities. If we notice some of these signs of abuse, it is our duty to report it to the proper authorities. Programs such as Adult Protective Services (APS), the Long-Term Care Ombudsmen and Disability Rights New Jersey are here to help. If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening situation or immediate danger, call 911 or the local police or sheriff. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) directed by the U.S. Administration on Aging, helps communities, agencies and organizations ensure that older people and adults with disabilities can live with dignity, and without abuse, neglect, and exploitation. We are based out of Keck School of Medicine of USC. NCEA is the place to turn for education, research, and promising practices in preventing abuse.
This material was completed for the National Center on Elder Abuse situated at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and is supported in part by a grant (No. 90ABRC000101-02) from the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grantees carrying out projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Therefore, points of view or opinions do not necessarily represent official ACL or DHHS policy. LAST DOCUMENT REVISION: DECEMBER 2018
As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.
On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing*) and strategy (critical thinking).
My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.
As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.
Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert and Doris were invaluable.
COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who are now participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.
In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas and Blackboard.
Older Americans are teaching/learning, too
Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating and completing school assignments.
One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.
Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails, and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.
Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household and homeschooling an active kindergartener.
I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!
Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise
I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:
Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor
Finding a pattern in the carpet
*I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit https://mylearningspringboard.com/subitizing/
Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups
Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing
Coloring in coloring books
Listening to books on tape or online together
This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book. https://www.storylineonline.net/
Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.
As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!
Dr. Smith is the featured guest on Episode 106 of Aging Insights, with host Melissa Chalker — watch “Learning Together” now!
We’d like to thank guest blogger and NJFA friend Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, for her blog post.
By Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman
The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care facilities is an unprecedented national tragedy. Around the country, tens of thousands of vulnerable residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died.
In fact, as of today in New Jersey, more than 5,400 long-term care residents have lost their lives due to the pandemic. To better put this into perspective, these deaths are more than half of New Jersey’s total cases.
Not only are the numbers themselves horrifying, but the inability of family and friends to physically be there with their loved ones in their final moments-as facilities were locked down to attempt to prevent more infection-makes it all the more painful and traumatic.
I mourn and hold dear the loss of each of these residents and wish peace and healing for their loved ones. And I am deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the long-term care residents who remain, and about the staff who care for them.
As an independent state agency that advocates for long-term care residents by investigating allegations of abuse and mistreatment, the New Jersey Office of the Long-Term Care (NJ LTCO) Ombudsman has been in the forefront in attempting to help residents and families deal with any issues or problems they may be having during this health emergency.
The investigation process
Usually, when we receive a complaint or concern, we make an unannounced visit to the resident in question and obtain consent to do an investigation.
Unfortunately, those visits stopped on March 13 when the federal and state government decided to severely restrict any visits to long-term care facilities, including by state regulators, families and representatives of the Ombudsman program.
The sudden inability to go into the facilities to witness what was happening there–to see firsthand the staffing levels and the physical conditions–and to have to rely on phone calls, FaceTime and other technologies to gain insight into what was truly happening, was very jarring and required some out-of-the-box thinking.
Fortunately, the NJ LTCO has highly seasoned and experienced investigators who have deep contacts in, and experience with, long-term care facilities in New Jersey.
In addition, the NJ LTCO has more than 200 highly trained volunteer ombudsmen assigned to an equal number of nursing homes. Under normal circumstances, these volunteers would be in their assigned nursing home every week, speaking with residents and handling their concerns.
So, even though we are not visiting LTC facilities, the NJ LTCO is well-positioned to reach deep into a facility and identify the right person who can solve problems for residents and their families.
Our volunteers continue to keep in contact with residents in nursing homes and have distributed letters reminding residents that the NJ LTCO is still here to assist them with any problems they may be having.
The dramatic increase in calls and cases
Our investigators have never been busier.
During March and April, calls to the NJ LTCO intake line increased by 40 percent, as did the number of cases opened for investigation.
The types of complaints that we have been receiving reflect the deepening crisis in long-term care. Here are some examples:
A woman called to tell us that her 56-year-old sister was on a ventilator, fighting for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The long-term care facility in which her sister lived, she alleged, had refused to send her sister to the hospital.
A 71-year-old, bed-bound resident called the NJ LTCO to complain that she was not receiving her medication and that she hadn’t been changed–and was sitting in her own urine for more than 24 hours.
A nurse called to tell us that she was the only one who showed up to care for more than 60 residents during an evening shift in a nursing home.
A man called to see if we could find his mother, who was COVID-19-positive, had a fever and had been hurriedly moved out of her nursing into another one–with no advance notice to the family. He didn’t know if his mother was dead or alive.
A family member called to report that he was informed that his father had a fever, that COVID-19 was suspected and that he was fine. He was called 90 minutes later and told that his father had died.
Multiple staff members called the NJ LTCO intake line to report that they were not given proper personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to care for residents safely.
Dozens of family members called us to state that their loved ones died of COVID-19, alone and without family by their side. Most of these callers alleged care neglect due to poor staffing.
As this crisis unfolds into late spring and early summer, it appears that there is more PPE and more testing available. These are the two things that are absolutely critical to stemming the tide of this horrific virus and getting to a place where our office, state regulators, and families and friends can once again visit long-term care residents.
Stepping up outreach
In the meantime, here at the NJ LTCO, we continue to adapt to this new reality. While we look forward to the day when we can go back into long-term care facilities, we are stepping up our outreach to residents via newsletters, direct phone calls and utilization of tablets and smart phones.
In mid-May, we began to distribute a resident-focused monthly newsletter to residents of long-term care facilities. In the inaugural edition, we remind residents that they have rights and that they can always call us for assistance. In addition, we remind them that most of them will get a $1,200 stimulus payment as a result of the COVID-19-related CARES Act and that this money is theirs-and no one can take it from them.
Conditions at long-term care facilities; hope for the ensuing months
I wish I could say that the tragedy of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities was totally unforeseeable, but that would not be the whole truth. While the scope and speed at which the COVID-19 tragedy unfolded were certainly new, the conditions in many of our long-term care facilities were ripe to fuel this type of situation.
In the ensuing months, it is my hope that we will see the effects of this terrible virus wane in long-term care facilities. In its wake, I am sure that there will be a clear-eyed assessment of how we, as a society, could have done more to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled people living in residential settings. We have learned much about this virus and the terrible toll it can take in long-term care facilities. My expectation is that we all will apply the lessons we have learned so that we are better prepared for any future outbreaks.
The thousands of souls we have lost and the thousands of vulnerable elderly and disabled people currently living in long-term care facilities deserve at least that much.
See resources at the end of this blog, including information for caregiving during COVID-19.
A Caregiving Report by AARP’s Susan Reinhard and Lynn Friss Feinberg revealed that in 2017, about 41 million family caregivers in the U.S. provided an estimated 34 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities. Support included basic functional activities (such as help with eating and bathing), household chores (such as meal preparation and help with shopping), and medical/nursing tasks, to help individuals remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible.
The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $470 billion. By comparison, all out-of-pocket spending on U.S. health care in 2017 was only $366 billion.
Here in the Garden State, nearly 2 million New Jersey residents — this writer included — provide varying degrees of unreimbursed care to family members or friends who are elderly or disabled and limited in their daily activities. Another AARP report noted that the services caregivers provided in the state had an annual value of more than $13 billion.
The prospect that someone will be a caregiver, or potentially need a caregiver, by 2030 is great because the nation’s population is changing and will mark a significant demographic turning point by then, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections.
The year 2030 is when all baby boomers will be older than age 65 — meaning that one in every five U.S. residents in 2030 will be of “retirement age.”
In a press release revised in Oct. 2019, Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, said, “The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. By 2034, there will be 77.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.5 million under the age of 18.”
Conversely, a recent story in the Daily Record of Morris County spotlighted the 100th birthday of Carmela “Millie” Scarnato. A newly minted centenarian, Scarnato is still a caregiver for her son with special needs, who is 57.
COSTS AND CHALLENGES
The work of a caregiver, AARP notes, can often morph into a part-time job or more, and cost caregivers more than $600,000 in lost wages and missed Social Security benefits over a lifetime.
“That lack of training makes their lives more difficult and makes it more likely that those they are caring for will fall, get infections, or suffer from dehydration or malnutrition,” Gleckman says in the article. “And as family members increasingly are expected to provide nurse-like wound care or complex medication management, their need for training is even greater.”
Gleckman cites a study published in JAMAInternal Medicine indicating that 93 percent of family members caring for an older adult said they had never been taught how to do this difficult work.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN TRENTON
In 2018, a bill was signed into law creating the New Jersey Caregiver Task Force to evaluate caregiver support services in the State and provide “recommendations for the improvement and expansion of such services ensuring that New Jersey is doing all it can to support caregivers who provide invaluable services to loved ones and friends.”
The NJ Caregiver Task Force consists of representatives from the public and private sectors.
“Studies show that the emotional and physical health of caregivers often suffers as a result of the stress and physical demands they encounter, particularly when it comes to caring for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, a co-sponsor of the bill, in a press release. “This task force will take an honest look at how we can better address these needs.”
The Task Force will:
Identify and survey caregivers in the state, in order to develop an aggregate summary of caregiver characteristics, including age, geographic location, the amount of time spent in caregiving activities and acting in the caregiver role.
Solicit testimony from caregivers on the nature and type of tasks they perform; the feasibility of task delegation; the availability and sufficiency of caregiver training programs, financial support services.
Submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature detailing its findings and providing recommendations for legislation, or for regulatory or programmatic changes.
“Caregivers devote their lives to their loved ones, often missing work and missing out on wages, and this is going to become more of a concern in the coming years with an aging population,” noted Task Force member and Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Human Services, Carole Johnson.
If you’re a caregiver, or will soon become one, consider the following:
Hire an elder-care attorney to draw up financial and medical power of attorney documents, plus determine if a loved one is eligible for other services. Watch episode 86 of NJFA’s “Aging Insights” TV program, “The Three Most Important Documents,” at https://youtu.be/axmetvdDQQ8
Learn about expanded paid time off for caregivers. Watch “Take the Time You Need,” episode 95 of NJFA’s “Aging Insights,” at https://youtu.be/gJrnqz_Mehc
The New Jersey Foundation for Aging’s Executive Director, Melissa Chalker, was invited to testify at the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee on January 27, 2020. The committee includes Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vice-Chair Shanique Speight and members BettyLou DeCroce, DiAnne C. Gove, Angela V. McKnight and P. Christopher Tully. This was Melissa’s testimony. To read more about the meeting, see the NJ Spotlight coverage here.
“Good afternoon, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and members of the Assembly Senior Services Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I am Melissa Chalker and I’m the Executive Director of the nonprofit New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).
NJFA was founded in 1998 by four County Office on Aging Directors. They wanted to create a statewide organization that would address public policy issues related to the changing and diverse needs of our growing aging population. Since then, we have worked with a wide variety of partner organizations, as well as state government officials, to enable older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities.
Today, I would like to tell you about NJFA’s advocacy priorities and present some current data related to older adults.
NJFA developed the state’s first Elder Index Report — a cost-of-living table — in 2009. In 2015, the NJ State Legislature passed a bill that mandated the use and updating of the report by the Dept. of Human Services — specifically the Div. of Aging Services, which I am sure my friends from the Division can tell you more about.
From the first report in 2009, through the national database update that was unveiled last week, this Elder Index data allows us to look at the cost of living for seniors in NJ, determine how many fall below the Elder Index Benchmark ($29,616 a year for a single elder renter) and focus on how they can be supported by public benefits and other programs to fill the gap.
Because of the Elder Index research, we know that 8% of New Jersey’s older adults live at or below the federal poverty level. Those seniors are among our most vulnerable — both financially and medically.
Additionally, Social Security is the only source of income for 30% of older adults in New Jersey. The average annual Social Security benefit for a retired elder in NJ is $18,065. We know that number is even lower for women, plus there are many other seniors who receive far less than the average benefit. We have received calls and letters from older adults seeking help, stating that they are trying to get by on their monthly Social Security benefit of $700. After paying their rent and health care premiums, they are often left with $100 or less for groceries, co-pays and other expenses.
In addition to those seniors living below the federal poverty level, there are older adults who may be above that benchmark, but still struggling to meet all their basic needs. In fact, the most recent NJ Elder Economic Security Index indicates that more than half (54%) of New Jersey’s seniors do not have the annual income needed to provide for their basic needs. This is what is referred to as New Jersey’s statewide Elder Economic Insecurity Rate (EEIR). These are the older adults that we refer to as being “in the gap.” That gap is having income too high to qualify for government programs, but too low to adequately cover basic expenses.
The Elder Index statistics influence much of NJFA’s advocacy work, including, but not limited to, affordable and accessible homes, nutrition and food security, and access to quality healthcare. However, this data should serve as a reminder that the state must also consider older adults when discussing tax relief programs — including property taxes — and review the structure of retirement income taxes, compared to that of neighboring states.
Ensuring that New Jersey’s aging population has safe and affordable housing is also imperative. Two years ago, we convened a stakeholder group, which developed a policy recommendation report. I have provided a copy for each of you to review [see the report here].
In the 10 recommendations listed, you will see that we are suggesting increases in vouchers and units for older adults within existing housing programs. We also identified ways to streamline the process and implement incentives to provide more housing to older adults that is safe, affordable and accessible.
When we consider the housing needs of seniors, we must consider every senior — there is no one-size-fits-all for older adults. When implementing policies and programs, we need to recognize seniors with chronic health conditions and those who are facing economic insecurity.
Additionally, there are middle-income seniors who struggle to find appropriate, accessible places to live in their communities of choice, and worry about being able to afford all their retirement expenses — including the potential need for long-term care services, which can add up to $50,000 a year to their costs depending on the level of care. Along with our partners, we’re engaged in discourse about age-friendly communities, particularly how social and wellness services can better be incorporated.
Much like anyone in any age category, the nutritional needs of seniors are a priority. Protecting the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program from Federal cuts would ensure that those who rely on the program will still be able to access healthy foods. What we have learned from partners doing outreach with seniors is that often an older adult on SNAP is better able to follow a doctor’s dietary guidelines because of this benefit.
One area of need, though, is finding and educating seniors who do not know about the SNAP program, or those who fear the stigma of public benefits and the stories about the difficulty in applying for the program. My friends at the Division of Aging Services can confirm that there has been under enrollment of seniors in SNAP for quite some time.
An improvement to SNAP program would be a Standardized Medical Deduction for seniors applying for SNAP, which would make it easier for seniors to take advantage of the medical deduction provision. Having one max deduction amount that all seniors could utilize would make it easier for them to apply for, and receive, SNAP.
The issues and struggles surrounding informal, unpaid family caregivers have been well documented. Family members provide most of the care for older adults and individuals with disabilities here in NJ. Our healthcare system will need to respond to the continued growth of the 65+ demographic over the next decade. Relying on family caregivers to fulfill all facets of care is unrealistic; but we know that it will become a necessity for many. Therefore, we need to not only look at policy changes to the healthcare system, but also the support of caregivers.
There is an urgent need to bring greater public awareness to this issue and to advocate for caregivers. Expanding access to home-based, long-term care services for NJ’s older adults would provide some relief in that area. The state has done a great job increasing the number of people who receive home- and community-based services through the state’s MLTSS [Managed Long Term Services and Supports] program.
Therefore, NJFA continues to participate in dialogue around the need for a policy or program to address those who fall in the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the ability to pay privately for care.
In conclusion, there is no single answer to “how do we better serve older adults in NJ,” because there isn’t just one issue. Across our nation (and even the world), longevity is increasing, which is good news. However, that means that society’s ageist views, which place barriers on the road to aging well, need to be dismantled now. Investing dollars into housing, nutrition and healthcare services (including those that benefit caregivers) will ensure that everyone in NJ has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.
(With apologies to beloved game show host Alex Trebek.) Happy New Year! Let’s start 2020 with a “Jeopardy”-esque answer, and you provide the question.
Answer: “According to multiple research studies, our happiest days occur at this age in life.”
Cue the theme music…
OK, time’s up. The correct question? “What is old age?”
Surprised? You’re not alone. Gerontologists and sociologists call this “the paradox of aging.”
Old age, it appears, is often a time defined by peace, gratitude and fulfillment — and not by sorrow, dread and regret, notes author and psychologist Alan D. Castel from the University of California (UC), Los Angeles. In his bookBetter With Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging, Castel argues that in some ways, our youth and middle years are somewhat of a training period for the unanticipated pleasure of being an older adult.
A landmark longitudinal study across the adult life span — the first of its kind — also reveals that negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, stress, and frustration, decrease steadily with age, and positive emotions, such as excitement, pride, calm, and elation, remain stable across the life span.
Researchers Susan Charles, professor and chair of psychological science at UC, Irvine, and Margaret Gatz, professor of psychology at University of Southern California (USC), Dornsife, discovered that only the very oldest group they studied registered a slight decline in positive emotions.
When award-winning New York Times reporter John Leland was 55, he began following the lives of six people over age 85, expecting to write about the difficulties associated with growing old. He was also the main caregiver for his octogenarian mother at that time.
That experience changed his understanding of old age, he said, and inspired his book, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old, a New York Times bestseller.
“When the elders described their lives, they focused not on their declining abilities, but on things they could still do and found rewarding,” Leland wrote in a 2018 New York Times article titled “Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person.”
So why is there still disbelief about aging and happiness?
Researcher Charles admits that when you ask people what they think 80 looks like, they’re likely envisioning dementia and nursing homes.
USC Dornsife’s Norbert Schwarz, provost professor of psychology and marketing, concurs. He says that when we’re evaluating our lives, we tend to focus on the negatives, such as increased frailty, declining independence and health, the loss of loved ones, and eventually, our own demise.
Another common misconception about aging, adds Schwarz, is that increasing awareness of mortality causes unhappiness.
On the contrary. Schwarz states that based on research, activity is tightly tied to the reason why people grow happier as they age. He notes that they may have had jobs they didn’t like and when they retire, they have better days. Seniors are then spending less time on activities that aren’t very enjoyable and cause higher levels of stress. Additionally, they have more time to spend with others, and “all of that lifts our spirits,” he says.
Leland had a similar experience. “Older people report higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults,” he noted in the “Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person” article he penned.
“The six elders put faces on this statistic,” Leland wrote. “If they were not always gleeful, they were resilient and not paralyzed by the challenges that came their way. All had known loss and survived. None went to a job he did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future.”
Perhaps now, some won’t look towards the future with a sense of fear and dread — they’ll “think like an old person” and be happy instead!
By NJFA Communications Manager Sue Burghard Brooks
Better With Age: The Psychology of Successful Agingand Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old are available through smile.amazon.com. Please select New Jersey Foundation for Aging, Inc. as your charity of choice on smile.amazon.com. Then, every time you make a purchase on the site, AmazonSmile will donate to us, at no cost to you! Thank you!