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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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!