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Home is where the heart is

by NJAAW Executive Director Cathy Rowe, DrPH

I recently had a discussion with one of my oldest and best friends. Both of her parents, who no longer drive, are facing physical challenges as they age in their bi-level home in the suburbs.

My friend and her siblings help with doctors’ appointments, meals and whatever else possible, while working, raising their kids and doing the things we all need to do.

When I suggested that my friend look into getting help, she immediately replied, “I am not sending my parents to a nursing home!”

This was the inspiration for NJAAW’s Housing Series webinars in February.

I will leave my friend’s name out, just in case she is reading this blog, but I think her reaction is one that many people have because they are not aware of the range of housing options for older adults.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living — there are numerous steps and choices.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living – there are numerous steps and choices.

Housing needs are not clear-cut nor consistent. There are a continuum of needs, finances, preferences and opportunities.

Housing is likely the biggest investment most of us will ever make — our home becomes a place we can call our sanctuary, and build memories. As such, the “where” and “how” we live are among the most important decisions we make. And these decisions cannot — or should not — be made suddenly or in a moment of crisis.

According to statistics, more than 23% of NJ’s total population is over 60 — and by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be of retirement age. Additionally, studies show that the majority of adults 50+ wish to remain in their homes and/or communities as long as possible, with a sense of independence and connection.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

For all of these reasons, we are hosting the NJAAW Housing Series, bringing together experts in the realm of NJ housing to explore options at each stage and need, to help you make informed decisions for yourself or for the older adults in your life.

The series takes place online on consecutive Wednesdays in February at 4 p.m.

Speakers will explain strategies to help you stay in your homes with modifications and built design. They will also discuss options for getting help in the home, downsizing and when assisted and supportive living becomes necessary.

You’ll find more information at njaaw.org/events. Please register once for Zoom links to all four sessions Those who register will also have on-demand access to session recordings.

Special thanks to our sponsors for letting us provide this series at no cost to NJ residents: Raise the Roof Sponsors Parker Health Group, Inc. and Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NJ, Build the Walls Sponsors AARP NJ and New Jersey Relay & CapTel and Lay the Foundation Sponsor Springpoint.

I hope you can join us!

I’m proud of you, New Jersey!

As we wind up 2021, I just want to take a moment to say I’m proud of you, New Jersey! Now, with all the jokes made about the great Garden State, you might not be used to the compliment, but here is why I am proud of our older residents, in particular.

New Jersey was hit hard early in the pandemic and suffered tremendous loss of life.

When we started 2021, we were on the edge of our seats waiting for the COVID vaccine and a return to normalcy. It was a frantic rollout but once the supply caught up with demand, the older residents in New Jersey led the way in getting vaccinated.

December 15 is the anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in the state of New Jersey. According to multiple reports, Garden State residents age 65 and over are among the highest vaccinated group in the country. New Jersey is leading the nation in fighting COVID.

According to multiple reports, Garden State residents age 65 and over are among the highest vaccinated group in the country. New Jersey is leading the nation in fighting COVID.

Now, I am not talking about politics or the misinformation that is affecting personal decisions on getting vaccinated. I am talking about the facts: Our fellow New Jerseyans over the age of 65 remember growing up in a time before vaccines. They can remember when polio, measles and other contagious diseases would shut down schools and swimming pools, and put communities on edge. They had lived through this before.

We hear the term “unprecedented” used in discussions about COVID, the vaccines and mandates. Yes – this is unprecedented; the last time we saw a health crisis of this magnitude, a true pandemic, was over 100 years ago.

Living through the flu epidemic of 1918

There are a handful of people who lived through the influenza epidemic of 1918, which spread worldwide before we had airplanes, cars and the social interactions we were so accustomed to until COVID arrived.  Many of the medical advances we take for granted were not developed – vaccines were in their infancy and penicillin was still 10 years away.

One of my favorite books is Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, written by Gina Kolata and published in 1999. I was deep in my graduate work in public health then and found the book to be a real thriller. (I still do, but realize not everyone shares my interest in contagious things.)

No corner of the globe was left unaffected and the similarities of the 1918 pandemic and COVID-19 are surprising, considering the century of medical progress that has passed in between.

A few years ago, I made a documentary with SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Two Towns for All Ages, in which we asked older residents about their memories of growing up before vaccines. Stories included children being sent away to family members in the countryside for the summer, to avoid polio. One woman recalled a relative who returned home from World War II a hero, only to succumb to polio a few weeks thereafter. Another witnessed diseases first-hand as a young nurse. Their honest recollections come to my mind every time I hear updates on vaccination rates.

We have come a long way and I am truly proud that people who can remember the time without vaccines took the lead in getting them to not only protect themselves but also others.

Vaccination rates for people 65+: nationwide vs. NJ

As of this writing, the national vaccination rate among adults age 65+ is 90+% ; in NJ it is over 98% with some communities reporting all residents over age 65 are vaccinated. 

In addition, vaccination rates for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) NJ residents are above the national average, elevating protection in communities that have been hit hardest by this virus. (Source: NJ Department of Health, USAfacts.org and CDC.gov)  

So, well done NJ! Once again, our older neighbors have proven that they are leaders and have so much to teach the rest of us.

I thank all of the people who drew on their life experiences and memories in making their health care decision to get the COVD vaccine. May we all look to your example.


To see the SOMA Two Towns for All Ages documentary “A Time Before Vaccines,” click here. This oral history shares the personal memories of SOMA residents growing up in a time before vaccines, and how now preventable diseases like polio, diphtheria and measles affected their lives.

Pie for Breakfast: Memories of Thanksgiving

By Sue Burghard Brooks

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday as far back as I can remember. There was something magical about Mom, Dad, my brother and me piling into the family car on Thanksgiving eve and driving from our NJ home to upstate NY.

We’d always spend “turkey day” and a few days thereafter with Dad’s side of the family. Inevitably, it would also snow while we were there — and I love snow!

Throughout the years, the Big Event was either hosted by Dad’s parents, his older brother and family or his younger brother and family.

My first cousins were fairly close in age to my brother and me, and we enjoyed spending time together. And we were loud! This made for some raucous times at the proverbial “kids’ table.”

Traditions

Our celebrations were rich with traditions. Great Uncle Steve, sipping his Johnny Walker Black, would tell stories of his travels abroad with the military or with Great Aunt Kate, who would often chime in. If a piano were nearby, Grandpa would play and sing. And without fail, you’d hear Grandma exclaim, “Oh, George!” multiple times, admonishing her husband for yet another groan-worthy joke or story.

Recaps of times gone by and peals of laughter were de rigueur at these gatherings. And the food! I’m blessed to have relatives who were phenomenal cooks and bakers.

My fondest memories are from Thanksgivings of later years, spent in the small-but-cozy Utica, NY, home of Dad’s youngest brother and family: my Uncle Paul, Aunt Marie, their four children, and Aunt Marie’s Mom, “Gram.”

Turkey and Trimmings and Pie — Oh My!

Second cousins eventually joined the family and the kids’ table on their enclosed porch got even tighter! However, there always seemed to be enough room — and endless amounts of fantastic food.

I always marveled at how my Aunt Marie managed to have the gigantic turkey (there could be upwards of 30 people) plus all the fixings and other goodies ready at the same time. She had limited space to do this since family members around the “adults’ table” took up most of the room in her kitchen and counter space was at a premium!

Desserts were a bounty of heavenly homemade pies as well as Italian cookies and pastries from a favorite nearby bakery.

The morning after Thanksgiving, we carried on perhaps the greatest long-standing tradition of all: leftover pie for breakfast.

Giving Thanks

Sadly, we stopped heading upstate for “turkey day” decades ago as families scattered. Many of our elder relatives had also passed on.

As much as my heart aches for “the good old days” — spending the happiest Thanksgivings with Dad’s family and being with those who now are gone or a distance away — I am thankful that I have plenty of fond memories and photos to lift my spirits.

This Thanksgiving, may your heart be filled with gratitude and your stomachs, with delicious food.

And if you’re also unable to spend time with those you love, whether they’re near or far or no longer walking the earth, may your memories be as sweet as pie.

Speaking of pie…I do hope you’ll join me and my relatives in enjoying a slice or two for breakfast the morning after!

Sue Burghard Brooks (pictured above, far right) is entering her third year as NJAAW’s Communications Manager and is also Executive Producer of the nonprofit’s monthly “Aging Insights” TV program. She confesses that her favorite Thanksgiving pie is mincemeat though growing up, she never ate it because her older cousin Ed (pictured front, holding his youngest sister, De) said that it was made of monkey meat!

Grand-families: A different call to action

Guest blog by NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith.

In the spring of 2020, I heralded a call to action for grand-families across New Jersey. Grandparents and other older family members bravely took on the challenge of helping their students with remote or virtual learning during COVID-19.

They assisted their young students with logging onto such online learning platforms as Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Canvas and plenty of other sites dedicated to virtual instruction. Uploading, downloading, links, passwords, usernames, mousepads, iPads and screenshots had become familiar vernacular for these now tech-savvy older warriors of the web. 

This school year, students are back in their classrooms and the laptops and tablets have taken a backseat to in-person instruction.

Additional challenges for in-person learning

Many students are finding it difficult to adjust to a very long and very different type of school day. Masking, social distancing, quarantining and other COVID-19 school protocols have made the school day especially demanding-particularly for the younger ones who had not benefited from any previous type of in-school experience.

Those students who have had the in-person experience of a “normal” school day are also finding it challenging to navigate through an extra set of expectations — wearing masks all day, not sharing materials and sitting socially distanced from friends in the cafeteria — in addition to catching up to grade-level expectations.

Since students returned to school, educators and parents have expressed concern about learning loss due to the shortcomings of virtual learning and the lack of “real school” social interactions.

To help students adjust to the social and academic demands, schools have added an additional layer of supportive learning opportunities to the student day: Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

What is Social Emotional Learning?

According  to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotion, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.”

There are public school districts in NJ — Westfield, Deptford, Clayton, Paulsboro, Readington, Eatontown and Jackson among them — that have adopted SEL curricula, which address student self- and social-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and relationship skills.

When schools are committed to the tenets of an SEL curriculum, the strategic instructional opportunities and practices enhance a positive classroom climate and help students become self-aware, caring, responsible and engaged lifelong learners.

I am again heralding the call to our Grand-families–partner up!

As grand-families and caregivers, you can also support in-school SEL by finding out about your school’s SEL curriculum and becoming more involved with your student’s school.

The benefits of grand-family/school partnerships

Grand-families partnering with schools that support SEL provide a win-win for the entire school community. Intergenerational older adult/student relationships provide wonderful opportunities for SEL and development.

Stanford University psychology professor and Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, states that as we age, our brains improve in the areas of complex problem-solving and emotional intelligence. Both of these are great qualities of a great mentor! Children can benefit from the counseling and experiences older adults can provide.

Carstensen points out that older adults are exceptionally suited to meet the needs of children because both welcome meaningful, productive activity and engagement. Older adults can help children develop self-awareness and empathetic skills that are essential to building healthy relationships in school by cultivating their relationships at home; identifying, communicating and acknowledging emotions, and modeling empathy and coping skills.

Our students thrive when schools and all families partner together. As one of the first in my school community to see students arriving at school, I have observed our older adult family members walking young students to their class lines outside on the blacktop playground. I’ve also heard their morning conversations, which have included making sure that the students are respectful toward their friends when joining their class line and ensuring that they say “good morning” to classmates.

At lunchtime, my first-graders are eager for me to read their “love notes” — words of encouragement and daily affirmations from their grandmas and abuelitas tucked inside their tiny lunch boxes. These are definitely warm-and-fuzzy moments, even for me!

Grand-families, please help our schools!

Schools have room for improvement. Our schools can be consistent in creating spaces where families feel welcome to share their culture, language, wisdom and skills.

Reach out to your child’s school, teacher or principal to develop a partnership. Join your school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Association. The skills, wisdom, and time you volunteer may make a difference in how your young family member connects socially and emotionally to school.

Let’s continue this course of positive relationship building and support because we all are family–parents, students, grand-family members and educators. Thank you!

Click here for my list of ideas and resources.

Dr. Charisse Smith

NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith, principal consultant and owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC, in Trenton, NJ, is the new Curriculum Supervisor for Social Studies, kindergarten through grade 6, for Trenton Public Schools. A member of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc. – Pi Chapter, an organization of professional educators, she and her chapter sisters focus their volunteer efforts on youth, education and service to the Greater Trenton area community. Smith and her husband, Steven, are the proud parents of Raven and Satchel. She is also a caregiver for her parents, Richard and Saundra.

Resources for Grandfamilies: A different call to action

Dr. Charisse Smith
Dr. Charisse Smith

https://www.njaaw.org/2021/11/01/grand-families-call-to-action/These ideas and resources for my guest blog titled “Grandfamilies: A different call to action” are just a small slice of the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) pie. Grand-family members: Our students still need you! Use those SEL skills that have carried you through life and life’s challenges. Thank you!


SEL partnership questions for the student’s school

  • Does this school have multiple ways to maintain two-way communication with families; to invite families to understand, experience, inform and partner with the school to support our students’ social and emotional development?
  • Do families participate in the school’s/district’s SEL team?
  • Does this school or district provide meaningful opportunities for all families to learn and contribute to SEL?

Ways older family members can support SEL

  • Participate in any back-to-school events and parent-teacher conferences (in-person or online)
  • Add yourself as a communication contact between the school and home
  • Share information with the school/teacher about how your child learns best
  • Mentor a student or two
  • Become a from-home volunteer for your child’s school (stapling packets, cutting out laminated decorations, volunteering your translation skills for flyers and information that are shared in the community)
  • Share your culture with your child’s school
  • Help unpack and repack your child’s book bag or backpack to check for important information about school and schoolwork
  • Practice SEL activities with your student

SEL activities you can do at home

  • Dedicate time to talking with your child about their day to help students navigate the art of conversation
  • Pay attention to your child’s behavior before and after school
  • Help establish and maintain routines such as preparing for school in the morning, homework time, playtime, bath time and most importantly, bedtime
  • Establish an open line of communication (texting, FaceTime-ing, etc. with older students)
  • Be aware of “red flags” or changes in “normal behavior” (losing interest in school, friends, or favorite activities), eating (loss or insatiable appetites), and/or sleeping behaviors (unable to sleep, sleeping during school hours)
  • Read books or watch online storytellers that promote SEL
  • Participate in mindfulness exercises together, such as walking, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, coloring with crayons or colored pencils or watching clouds
  • Attend school SEL activities

Resources for grandparents and others caring for school-age children

  • Why Social-Emotional Learning Is Suddenly in the Spotlight
  • The Whole-Brain Child by neuroscientist and parenting expert Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson: This New York Times Bestseller explains the child’s developing brain and how we can best support it.
  • Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby: Follow the stories of four different young children, known in their respective classrooms as the “troublemakers.” This radical take encourages us to shift our adult perspective to better understand the and sometimes confusing behavior of children.
  • SEL Framework: CASEL

SEL literature for young readers

About being yourself

  • Yo Soy, I Am by Trenton, NJ-native Jacquelyn León: This is the tale of how a child’s name came to be. It is interwoven with family, history, culture and love, to fortify the connection between the child’s name and the child’s identity to the world. The book celebrates and honors the home as the child’s local roots grow and blossom across the world.
  • Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián is a boy who lives with his abuela (grandmother) in New York City. Although his preferences and attire may seem unconventional, he is supported by those around him to be himself.
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf: Bulls are supposed to fight, correct? Not Ferdinand. A peaceful and calm bull in the bull-fighting rings of Spain, Ferdinand remains true to himself despite the pressures to change.
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown: Marisol McDonald is a biracial girl with red hair and brown skin. In many ways, Marisol defies the norms and sometimes confuses those around her. She is, however, confidently herself!
  • Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson: Chloe and her friends have no interest in playing with Maya, the new girl at school who wears ratty hand-me-down clothes. But when Maya leaves school and Chloe realizes her mistake, she learns that you don’t always get a chance to apologize. 
  • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig: Brian is unnoticed by the other students in his class. He is never included or invited until the new student, Justin, arrives and shows us that it just takes one friendship to change a person’s life.

About sharing and gratitude

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams: Classic and award-winning story about a family’s home being destroyed by fire. A young Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save their coins to buy a really comfortable chair for all to enjoy.
  • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: Rainbow Fish has beautiful glittering scales like no other in the ocean. While at first, he refuses to share his most prized scales, he learns that when he does, he creates invaluable friendships.

About overcoming fear and anxiety

  • The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald: The Good Egg is always doing what it should, even taking care of the other eggs who are not doing their best. But when the Good Egg’s own shell starts to crack, it realizes that balance and self-care are more important than perfection.
  • Jake the Growling Dog Shares His Train by Samantha Shannon: Follow Jake, a sweet, kind, and misunderstood dog, as he learns more about sharing, facing his fears, and the many remarkable differences in the world

SEL literature for older readers

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: Jesse’s colorless rural world expands when he becomes fast friends with Leslie, the new girl in school. But when Leslie drowns trying to reach their special hideaway Terabithia, Jesse struggles to accept the loss of his friend.
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of a few kids of color in his entire grade.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz: Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and her mama, papa and abuelita to care for her. But suddenly, tragedy forces Esperanza and mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. 

National Grandparents Day – what’s the story behind the day?

by Sue Brooks

The pandemic has had a harsh impact on our ability to spend time with older relatives, such as grandparents. Conversely, it has awakened us to just how much we cherish those intergenerational ties.

Sunday, Sept. 12 is National Grandparents Day and we wondered about its history. There appear to be three people behind the movement.

Russell Capper

According to a recent online Better Homes & Gardens article by Emily VanSchmus, in 1969, 9-year-old Russell Capper penned a letter to President Nixon requesting that a day be dedicated to grandparents — much like the national celebrations of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Capper received a letter from Nixon’s secretary indicating that the president liked the idea but couldn’t declare a holiday without a resolution from Congress…

Generations United’s website at grandparentsday.org states that National Grandparents Day is “rooted in the innovative work of two committed and passionate pioneers: Jacob Reingold and Marian McQuade.”

Jacob Reingold

Reingold, who served as Executive Vice President of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx from 1958 to 1995, attended the 1961 White House Conference on Aging. Accordingly, he was so inspired by a speech concerning the “new image of the aged” that he “focused on recognizing the role of millions of older Americans who are grandparents.” That same year, on September 16, the first day specifically honoring grandparents was held at the Hebrew Home. Two years later, it became an official holiday in the borough of the Bronx. 

Marian McQuade

In 1970, West Virginian Marian McQuade, who served on the West Virginia Commission on Aging and the Nursing Home Licensing Board, began campaigning to create a special day of recognition for grandparents. She said she wanted to educate youth about the importance of seniors and the contributions they have made throughout history. She urged the younger generation to “adopt” a grandparent and “learn more about their lives, challenges, and desires for the future.”

She reached out to civic, business, faith and political leaders and began a statewide campaign for Grandparents Day in West Virginia. In 1973, the first Grandparents Day was proclaimed there by Governor Arch Moore.

Reingold and McQuade’s work culminated in 1978 (nine years after Capper’s letter) when Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day, and President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential proclamation.

(An interesting side note: According to legacyproject.org, McQuade and her husband, Joseph, had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild!)

Wishing those who celebrate a safe, memorable day!

Sue Brooks is NJAAW’s Communications Manager.

Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccination Scams

Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.

Find Help in Your State

If you live in a state other than NJ, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center.

If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.

Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.

Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.

Aging Well – Moving Forward Together

A promo for the conference.

Excerpt from a speech by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, NJAAW’s new Executive Director

For the last four to five years, I have been deeply involved in age-friendly efforts and communities, and as you have heard in recent weeks — and from some of our [conference] speakers — NJ has committed to becoming an age-friendly state. So, this is an exciting time with a lot of opportunities for all of us in the field of aging to make change where needed, keep all the best of what we do and attempt things we never thought possible before. Now is the time to reach high.

When [NJ’s Director of the Division of Aging Services (DoAS)] Louise Rush told us that 23+% of NJ residents were over age 60, even I was surprised. That’s a lot! It really is a lot.

We have known that the Baby Boomers — the bubble born post-WW2 through 1968 — were the largest population group ever seen in the US, and we have watched for 60 years as they moved through the schools systems, the workforce, started their families and now enter retirement. We built schools for them, colleges, highways and other infrastructure to accommodate this population growth, but we are still not fully prepared for their next stage of life.

Living longer; prepping for the future

Part of this is because when they were born, the average life expectancy was still under 70 years. Now, a child born today may easily see their 100th birthday. That is a big change and a rapid change. Nobody building new schools to accommodate an influx of students in 1960 predicted that those same children would live as long and as well as they are now.

There is a lot to do to prepare. Coming out of COVID, as we rebuild and rebound, we need to keep the lessons we learned and use them for long-term planning, to shape policy and make improvements. No problem that any of us were working on before COVID was solved — most were accentuated. Many new, or rather, unrecognized challenges, were brought to the forefront. And we saw some very creative solutions.

Aging is actually one of the very few things we all have in common. My background is in public health, and I was once asked how public health fit into healthy aging. I responded that healthy aging is the goal of public health. All efforts, research, programs — whether long-term or in quick response to something like a pandemic are with the goal to help people live long, healthy lives as individuals and as a population.

Not just aging — aging well

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

At NJAAW, our role and goals are aligned with our emerging from COVID, the review of the state plan for older adults, and the age-friendly efforts. For 10 years, NJAAW has provided Aging Insights, our award-winning TV program, covering topics that range from health, pandemics to personal finances and just about everything in between. We will continue Aging Insights as well as holding webinars that have provided interactive sessions with colleagues in the field who have found unique ways to approach aging issues in their communities.

Sharing, educating, advocating

And based on the response to our conference’s networking session, and the very active Q&A for presenters, we will offer more opportunities to bring you together for discussions and idea-sharing — one small benefit of the last year is that we can now connect so easily online. Meeting online breaks down the many silos that might block our natural interaction — either by service area or geography.

This is NJ and with over 500 municipalities doing things 500 different ways, it is difficult to see what another community is doing and find ways to implement it for your town or program or agency. We want to help in the sharing of ideas, lessons and successes you all have had in your work.

As NJ works towards becoming an age-friendly state, we will continue the education and advocacy we have done for the past 23 years. We will increase our focus on policy and joining the discussion on age-friendly efforts and the changing demographics of our state. 

2030, that looming year we in NJ and many states expect to see the number of 60+ year old residents outnumber the number of students in the classrooms, is not far away. 

We will highlight issues of importance with

  • Data
    • Academic research and
    • The experience of local efforts bubbling up and state efforts going down

Where do we meet in the middle?

Your plans for aging well?

I asked Louise Rush and members of the breakout groups what their plans are for aging well — and I am going to keep asking so everybody, start thinking. We are all professionals here, working to help people age well. Whether social worker, housing, health care, recreation, mental health or transportation — we are working now to not only meet needs but to make life better for older New Jerseyans.

But as the flight crew always tells us, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”  Louise Rush said age 0 – 60 goes fast. Age 60 – 90 might slow down for some as you find new time in retirement or might speed up more with additional family, responsibilities, or new careers and activities.

So, do not just think of what needs to be done right now, coming out of COVID, or for the next year, or the next inspection or budget cycle. Think of what YOU can do long term and what WE can do together. What do you personally want for your aging plan? Where do you want to live? Are you financially prepared?

Whether you are new to the field, mid-career or counting the weeks until you retire, envision where and how you want to live and what you will need. Now go do it!

The time is now

The timing for coming out of COVID actually is good, if there could ever be a “good time” or anything good to come from a pandemic. What I mean by that is that we are re-emerging and rebuilding at the exact time other significant changes are about to be made. We are launching statewide efforts to make NJ an age-friendly state just as we are looking at the lessons we learned from COVID.

We saw the devastating fragility of some of our residents who succumbed to this disease. We saw that socioeconomic status, including race and income, had a significant impact on whether someone caught COVID and their ability to recover.

Lessons to be learned

More than ever before, we came further in the last year in recognizing racial inequities, which become more pronounced as we age. We saw some communities embrace technology while others were left further behind. We learned that we do not know enough about our older residents who live in their own homes, who are not in any programs or receiving benefits. What do all of these have in common? They are lessons we learned and data points we can use going forward.

At NJAAW we are going to keep doing what we do well — convening, educating and advocating for older residents. To be as effective as possible at this important time of change, we will examine data more carefully to identify needs and to help shape policy. Look for the data highlights we will include in our newsletter and other communications.

Data = direction

From my time in academia, I learned that it is only with good data that we can help shape good policy and then implement that policy as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am thrilled to have supportive and dedicated people in our statehouse, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and the members of the Aging and Senior Services Committee in the Assembly, and Director Rush shaping our next steps in policy and programs. At NJAAW we will share the data and discussions with you and will advocate for policy and the funding necessary to make NJ a state where we can all age well.

About Dr. Rowe

Dr. Cathy Rowe
Executive Director
NJ Advocates for Aging Well,
Photo by Steve Hockstein HarvardStudio.com

Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was named Executive Director of NJ Advocates for Aging Well in May, 2021. Most recently, Dr. Rowe served as Coordinator for SOMA (South Orange/Maplewood): Two Towns for All Ages, a grant-funded healthy aging initiative in a community with more than 6,000 residents over 60. This cutting-edge collaboration, based on the World Health Organization’s Domains of Healthy Aging, focuses on developing programs to address economic and infrastructure needs for an age-friendly community.

Dr. Rowe has spoken extensively on aging issues at conferences and symposia locally and globally and is an expert in establishing age-friendly communities. In 2020, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging presented her with a “Best Practices for Socially Engaging Older Adults Award” for the “Repair Café” she established — the first of its kind in NJ. An inter-generational event, the cafe brings together people of all ages and levels of expertise to repair and save treasured items. This also helps to keep such items out of landfills.

Dr. Rowe serves on the steering committee for Impact 100 Essex and is a mentor for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Previously, she was a Board member for the Interfaith Hospital Network.

Dr. Rowe earned her DrPH in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University, where she received a Fellowship in Public Policy. Her BA in Economics is from Bates College.

Guest blog by Mark Tabakman, NJAAW Board member

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 are making 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.

New!

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.  

COVID-19 and Senior Volunteering: To Serve or Not to Serve?

Guest blog by Lauren Lamin, Program Coordinator, New Jersey’s Foster Grandparent Program

The onset of the pandemic hit NJ’s Foster Grandparent Program hard. The novel coronavirus was particularly concerning to our program because according to public health officials, two of the most vulnerable groups at risk were seniors aged 65 and older and school-age children. Unfortunately, those also happen to be the core segments of our program’s demographics…

New Jersey’s Foster Grandparent Program (NJ/FGP), part of AmeriCorps Seniors, provides low-income senior residents, ages 55 and up, with the opportunity to work one-on-one as mentors and role models to children with special or exceptional needs.

Volunteers, who must be retired and/or receiving Social Security, do this work in classrooms or institutionalized settings throughout the state. Income eligibility (200% under the federal poverty line), criminal history and background checks are required for volunteers to serve, and they receive a tax-free stipend of $3 an hour. Travel reimbursement, free breakfast and lunch provisions, supplemental accident and liability insurance and an annual award-recognition event are some of the program benefits.

Foster Grandparents support schools and community needs related to children where traditional services are not available, such as encouraging socialization, modeling appropriate behaviors and skills, assisting in the development of motor and learning skills, tutoring, listening, talking, singing, walking and reading.

THE PANDEMIC

In March, the new reality of pandemic-related lockdowns, social distancing and limits on travel and gatherings were put in place as safety measures by Gov. Murphy’s executive orders. Such measures kept our Foster Grandparent volunteers at home and off duty.

Major fears for our volunteers escalated because many were afraid or not able to leave their homes, even to shop for food. And a few of our volunteers suffer from food insecurities and isolation.

HELP AND KEEPING CONNECTED

My colleagues and I made weekly phone checks to our volunteers, home visits to drop off food to those in need and ran errands as a courtesy to those who expressed a need. We also completed monthly conference calls to keep all of our volunteers connected to the program and each other.

Fortunately, the national office of AmeriCorps Seniors has made it possible to continue monthly stipends during this period by providing a COVID-19 allowance until December 31, 2020. Many of our volunteers have come to rely on these stipends.

BACK TO SERVICE

Now that some of the Governor’s executive orders, COVID curfews and closure restrictions are lifting, and some schools have re-opened, we are working to transition our volunteers back into service. A number of our volunteers remain concerned about the potential risks that COVID-19 may have on their health, and we’re concerned for them as well. Nonetheless, the majority cannot wait to go back to their sites. They love and miss working with the children.

Our pathway back to service includes practicing social distancing, using required personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking on new permissible service roles.

DIGITAL DIVIDE

COVID-19 thrusted our senior volunteers into the virtual world. Many of our older adults were not very “tech-savvy” and nervous about all things web-related. Right away, we saw first-hand how Foster Grandparents were deeply affected by the digital divide. Our volunteers not only lacked the knowledge of how to use technology, but they also lacked the equipment and access to the internet.

As a team, we developed a few solutions to address this issue, starting with training. We now have a mandatory “Computing 101” course that includes setting up WiFi, how to log in and how to use Zoom. We have also teamed up with CyberSeniors, a national organization whose mission is to bridge the digital divide, and Rutgers Extension to provide online training content and services.

Besides virtual engagement with the students during the coronavirus, our volunteers have been packing and delivering lunches to students in local NJ communities and serving as School Greeters to walk students to their classrooms, because parents are no longer allowed in school buildings. Those volunteers who are more tech-savvy are helping as in-person guides and assistants to students learning virtually at home or in the classroom.

GREAT GRANNIES!

Foster Grandparents join the program to give back to communities and offer their time, wisdom and unique skills. We are so pleased that NJ FGP volunteers are able to continue to serve children and their families throughout this pandemic.

It is quite rewarding to see our volunteers in their “second act” of life learning new skills and becoming essential resources. “Volunteers add positivity, care, and warmth that the children in our center need to thrive,” Program Director Pat Staltari says. “The volunteers give that extra love and attention that many of our students are not receiving at home. We love our grannies!”

When you volunteer, you’re not just helping others — you’re also helping yourself. Volunteering leads to new discoveries and new friends. Additionally, in a two-year AmeriCorps Seniors study completed in 2018, 85% of participants said that volunteering helped stabilize or improve their health. Plus, 88% of the volunteers said that they felt less isolated and now have a new purpose in life. Other research shows that volunteering helps you live longer and promotes a positive outlook on life. Join us!

For more information on NJ’s Foster Grandparent Program, and to meet guest blogger Lauren Lamin and Grandma LuLu, one of her volunteers, watch Aging Insights, Episode 110 on NJFA’s YouTube channel.

Lauren Lamin (left) is a Program Coordinator with the New Jersey Foster Grandparent Program (NJ/FGP), an AmeriCorps Seniors program. NJ/FGP is sponsored by NJ Department of State, Governor’s Office of Volunteerism (GOV). Donna Teel is NJ/FGP Director and Rowena Madden is Executive Director GOV. For more information, visit https://nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps, follow @VolunteerNJ on Facebook, and email Lauren at lauren.lamin@sos.nj.gov.