Our Blog

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.

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.

Grandparents Stepping Up to Assist Grandchildren with Virtual Education

 

Dr. Charisse Smith

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:

  • Having conversations
  • 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/
  • Teaching them how to play a card game

Other resources to use

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!

Dr. Charisse Smith of Trenton earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Professional Studies. She serves on the boards of New Jersey Foundation for Aging and Notre Dame High School, is an Instructional Coach with the Hamilton Township Public Schools, President of ETE-Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township and is the owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC.  Dr. Smith proudly notes that she has been married for 23 years and has two beautiful children!

 

Caregiving by the Numbers

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.”

When it comes to being a caregiver, there appears to be few age boundaries. Of these nearly 41 million family caregivers nationwide, the majority are in their 40s and 50s, AARP reports, but about 1 in 4 is part of the millennial generation.

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.

One of the greatest challenges of family caregivers though is training, noted Forbes Senior Contributor Howard Gleckman in his article titled “Compassion isn’t enough for family caregivers. They need training too.” Gleckman contends that family caregivers often provide aid with lots of love and compassion, but zero skills.

“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 JAMA Internal 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.

HELPFUL INFORMATION

If you’re a caregiver, or will soon become one, consider the following:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. View “Giving and Getting Support, episode 99 of “Aging Insights,” which is devoted to caregiving, at https://youtu.be/9T5ObyIkdRQ
  4. Visit NJ’s county-by-county Aging & Disability Resource Connection/Area Agency on Aging (ADRC/AAA) for resources  https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/home/saaaa.html
  5. Caring for a veteran? Check out resources available through Veterans Affairs at https://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/benefits-resources/
  6. Become familiar with the CARE (Caregiver Advise Record Enable) Act, which was enacted to help the growing number of family caregivers know what to do/how to do it after a parent or older loved one’s hospitalization. [Download a wallet card at https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/local/info-2017/care-act-aarp-wallet-card.html]
  7. Social workers and nurses at hospitals and medical practices who are treating your loved one can suggest appropriate local services.
  8. Visit the AARP’s caregiving resource area https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/
  9. Visit the Family Caregiver Alliance for NJ https://www.caregiver.org/state-list-views?field_state_tid=89
  10. Read more about caregiver burnout and ideas to help combat it https://www.aginginplace.org/caregiver-burnout/

Here are resources specific to caregiving and the coronavirus:

https://www.johnahartford.org/dissemination-center/view/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-resources-for-older-adults-family-caregivers-and-health-care-providers

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-caregiving-for-the-elderly

https://www.ncoa.org/covid-19/covid-19-resources-for-older-adults/

REFERENCES

Links to references are in the blog copy.

by Sue Burghard Brooks, Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. A published author, Sue is also a caregiver for her Dad, who is a nonagenarian veteran and a Mason.

 

 

Testimony given by NJFA Executive Director Melissa Chalker to the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee, 1/27/2020

 

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.

FINANCIAL INSECURITIES

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.

HOUSING INSECURITIES

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.

FOOD INSECURITIES

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.

FAMILY CAREGIVERS

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.

Thank you for your time.”

Aging and happiness

(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 book Better 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

References:

https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/3117/people-get-happier-as-they-age/

https://time.com/5363067/aging-happiness-old-age-psychology/

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/nyregion/want-to-be-happy-think-like-an-old-person.html

https://www.npr.org/2018/01/24/580212243/reporter-shares-life-lessons-from-a-year-with-the-oldest-old

https://lithub.com/how-the-oldest-of-the-old-taught-me-to-choose-happiness/

Better With Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging and 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!

 

The Importance of Programs

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have questions about what services are available to you? We have answers! | via Pixabay

 

The Importance of Programs

There are many programs available for eligible older adults, but not everyone is signed up for them. Some people aren’t aware of the types and specific programs available and others may know the programs, but don’t believe they’ll qualify for assistance. In today’s blog post we’ll take a brief overview of the types of programs available and why they’re important.

Why are these programs important? Often, due to a number of circumstances, including unforeseen medical costs, outliving one’s planned savings, needing to leave the workforce early or for lengthy periods due to medical or caregiving needs (and so on), older adults often find themselves with far fewer financial resources than they need to survive. The impacts of these problems are especially noticeable in a high-cost state such as New Jersey. Research on the issue, such as the Elder Economic Security Index (EESI), has repeatedly showcased the difficulties faced by older adults continuing to age in New Jersey. Older adults face higher risks of homelessness, hunger, and delayed or neglected medical care due to their financial means. Although the programs listed below help to combat these disturbing trends, these programs are also often threatened by financial cuts, changes in eligibility requirements, and lack of legislative or community support.

Food Assistance

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may the one of the most well-known of the food assistance programs. Another popular program is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which “promotes nutritional health among New Jersey’s senior citizens by providing them with locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.”

Check your eligibility and apply for SNAP here: Apply for SNAP

Medical Assistance

In addition to Medicare, there are several other programs for older adults, including prescription assistance. The Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged & Disabled program (PAAD) is a state-funded program that helps eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities save money on their prescription drug costs.

To learn more about applying for Medicare go to the Social Security Administration’s website here: Social Security Administration: Medicare

To learn more about applying for PAAD, the Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program, and other Medicare savings programs, continue to the section on the new NJ Save application and follow this link: NJ Save Application

Assistance for Homeowners

For eligible homeowners, assistance is available with your property taxes. The Property Tax Reimbursement Program (popularly known as the Senior Freeze Program) and the Homestead Benefit Program are available to older adults who qualify.

Learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to apply for the Property Tax Reimbursement Program here: NJ Property Tax Reimbursement Program a.k.a. “Senior Freeze”

Heating and Cooling Assistance

The Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) “helps very low-income residents with their heating and cooling bills, and makes provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance within the Home Energy Assistance Program.”

Check your eligibility and download the application for LIHEAP here: Apply for LIHEAP

Multi-Program Savings and Application

New Jersey’s new application NJ Save allows eligible older adults and those with disabilities to apply and enroll in the following programs simultaneously:

-Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD)

-Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program

-Lifeline Utility Assistance

-Medicare Savings Programs (SLMB & QI-1)

-Medicare Part D’s Low Income Subsidy (aka “Extra Help”)

-Hearing Aid Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (HAAAD)

The application is also used to screen for LIHEAP, SNAP, and Universal Service Fund (USF). In addition, individuals who qualify for PAAD and Lifeline Utility Assistance through NJ Save may also be eligible for Property Tax Freeze (“Senior Freeze”), reduced motor vehicle fees, and low-cost spay/neuter for pets.

Learn more about NJ Save and apply here: Apply Through NJ Save

Programs aimed to assist our most vulnerable often seem out of reach for many, and while it may be true that these programs all have eligibility requirements, many programs are under utilized. Remember that only 48% of eligible older adults in New Jersey are currently receiving SNAP benefits. Rather than assume you don’t meet the eligibility requirements, look into the requirements for each program (or use the NJ Save application) and apply for all the programs you meet the criteria for. Regardless of what assistance level you might receive from an individual program, each benefit can help you and even small benefit amounts can quickly add up to substantial assistance across several programs!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as office@njfoundationforaging.org.

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Getting Ready for Summer

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for summer weather?

We’re now in the middle of summer and it’s time to make sure you’re prepared for hot, long days and more time!

But, you may be thinking, what do I need to do to prepare? What do I even need to prepare for?

Although summer may be the season of sun and relaxation for many, it’s one of our “extreme” seasons alongside winter. As such, there are many preparations to make and precautions to take whether you’re an older adult, a caregiver or both. And, of course, it’s the perfect time to get other things done you may have been putting off during winter.

 

  1. Be prepared for hot days: Make sure you have access to a cool place for the hottest of days. Keep in mind that heat susceptibility is a problem for our bodies as we age, and overheating can be deadly—especially for those with medical conditions, young children, and older adults. For those who have and can afford air conditioning, use air conditioning as needed. For those who do not have access to air conditioning, use a fan and keep ice on hand, if possible. You can also look for cooling centers near you, such as libraries or senior centers, or contact NJ 2-1-1 for help finding a cooling center near you.

In addition, make sure to check on anyone you are a caregiver for during the hottest times of the year, and neighbors and friends. Also practice basic heat stroke prevention: drink plenty of cool fluids, stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 AM-4PM, and find shade/cool indoors as soon as you begin to feel overheated. Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications may increase your risk of dehydration (which will increase your risk of overheating), so be aware of any increased risk of dehydration and adjust your fluid intake and activity level accordingly.

 

  1. Storm and hurricane preparation: Summer storms have already been severe this year and will continue to be, and hurricanes at the end of summer can be devastating. There are many steps that should go into emergency preparation for storms and hurricanes. Luckily, we’ve prepared a full list of steps to take in a previous blog post, which you can read here: (Disaster Preparedness and Safety)

 

  1. Make preparations for vacations: If you are a caregiver, make sure the person you provide care for will be cared for while you are gone—even if all they need is a person they can call in case of emergency. If you plan to travel and receive care or assistance from someone make sure to speak to your doctor and/or formal or informal caregivers to let them know of your plans and determine any equipment/supplies you might need to take or any arrangements you might need to make for your care.

 

  1. If you have concerns about paying for summer or winter cooling/heating costs, now is the perfect time to get in touch with NJ SHARES or your own utility company to see if you’re eligible for utility assistance programs. Several different continual assistance programs, one-time grant programs, and payment plans are available through different agencies and have different eligibility requirements. You can read more about these programs and the availability of energy assistance programs in the 2019 Summer issue of Renaissance here on page 6: Renaissance Summer 2019

 

  1. If you need meal assistance during the summer (for any reason), see if you’re eligible for SNAP. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is currently underenrolled, with only 48% of eligible adults in New Jersey currently enrolled. Don’t assume that you don’t qualify for SNAP benefits, apply today! Learn more about the program and apply for NJ SNAP here: NJ SNAP

 

  1. Because older adults are more susceptible to illnesses carried by biting insects (e.g., West Nile Virus). Plan on wearing long, protective clothing when outside or apply bug spray.

 

  1. Read up on policy updates and changes to your communities at the local, state, and national level! Now is the perfect time to learn more about the 2020 Census and changes coming to your communities. We’ll be releasing a blog post later this summer with updates and news on several different public policies and acts—check our blog throughout the summer for more updates!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as office@njfoundationforaging.org.

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 3: Money and Retirement

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are you ready for your financial future? | Photo by Mathieu Turle via unsplash.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week, in the final chapter of our three-part series, we’ll cover: money and retirement.

 

Money

Do you have money saved for the future? Will it be enough for yourself and any care you might need? Have you enrolled or will you enroll in supplemental programs? Do you know your eligibility? Have you already retired? Are you about to retire? Do you have money saved up for retirement? Will money be coming in during your retirement or will it just be going out?

Suffice it to say there are many questions surrounding money throughout the course of our lives, particularly as we become older, possibly retire, and consider our long-term care needs. If you haven’t already, read Barbara O’Neill’s article on flipping financial switches later in life (Flipping a Switch: For Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life, pages 6-7) in the latest issue of Renaissance for some great insight into what financial changes you can anticipate facing as you age.

The sheer number of questions can be daunting, let alone the stress financial decisions and discussions can instill in people. But just having a plan for your financial future can save you from a load of future stressors and difficulties. If you’re facing a loss of income it may be necessary or helpful to consider what options you have: could you work a part-time job or are you eligible for Social Security or disability benefits? Would you be interested or able to live with a roommate or relative?

 

A note about programmatic assistance

As part of your financial discussions, investigate eligibility requirements for assistance programs—there are many different types of assistance programs across the state for services ranging from utilities, to property taxes, food and fresh produce, medication, and more! Learn more about each program and see which ones may best work for your own situation. You can learn more and apply to multiple assistance programs (though not all assistance programs) through the state’s new, simplified application NJSave.

Some programs include, but are not limited to, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PADD), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP), and NJ SHARES. PADD is a prescription drug assistance program that can help you pay for your medications and LiHEAP and NJ SHARES are utility assistance programs that make it easier for older adults and others to pay their utilities throughout the year and may offer weatherization tips or tools. Whether you are eligible for one or all of these programs, each can make a significant difference and positive impact in your life. You may be eligible and not know it, so make sure to look into each of these programs.

It’s important to know that some of these programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), face chronic underenrollment—in NJ alone, only 48% of eligible older adults are receiving benefits, meaning that 52% of eligible older adults are facing additional food insecurity and financial strain and may not realize they qualify for this benefit. Learning more about SNAP and other assistance programs could help you today or in the future, depending on your eligibility status. Furthermore, signing up for these programs will help you save money and ensure you have access to basic necessities and a higher quality of life. Although you cannot apply to SNAP through NJSave, you can apply only through the NJ SNAP website.

Another way to help secure greater benefits later in life is to put off taking your Social Security benefits until you’re 70, if possible. Waiting until age 70 will maximize your benefits payout. If you plan on using Social Security benefits to supplement your income in a meaningful way you’ll want to have as much of your money as possible coming to you in each benefit check or deposit.

 

Retirement

Does the thought of retiring make you sweat or fill you with joy? What will you do with your newfound time? Will you have too much, too little, or none at all? How can you make this new phase of your life work best for you?

Retirement can be a joy for some and a great sorrow for others. Whether you’re looking forward to retirement or dreading it, it’s important to know what you’re going to do with this next phase of your life. Many people may choose not to retire or may not be able to for financial reasons, and in this case it’s equally important to choose how to spend this time when many friends may be retiring or health changes may make it necessary for you to cut back on hours spent working.

For those who are retiring, having a plan for your retirement can make the difference between remaining healthy and happy and declining physically and mentally. For many of us, even those who don’t love their jobs, having a regular work schedule can fill us with a sense of purpose or, at least, give us a predictable schedule and a way to pass the time. A newfound freedom in retirement may allow you to pursue a hobby or travel, spend time with friends and family, or relax in ways you didn’t think were possible. If this sounds good to you, try planning out at least a few days a week with activities that are meaningful to you and keep you engaged; this could be going out and socializing with friends, reading books, engaging in a craft or sport, or volunteering—anything that gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose.

If the above sounds boring and pointless to you, or at least unfulfilling and unwanted, consider working part-time as part of your retirement or semi-retirement. For many people fulltime retirement may not be enjoyable—it may seem dull, and could lead to depression, physical and mental decline. A volunteer role (fulltime or part-time) may work for some, but not for others. The work could be a passion of yours that’s been on the backburner, or could be something like office work, cashiering, or other positions that work for you and your schedule. Often it’s the set schedule of work that’s vital to keeping people happy and engaged more than the work itself. Moreover, people who have the luxury to choose to work past retirement instead of working out of necessity can enjoy the freedom of knowing they can leave their job if and when they choose to and can have greater flexibility in schedule and line of work.

However you decide to spend your later years, come up with a preliminary plan and a backup plan. Although your plans may change over the years, it will be helpful to have an initial plan in place now for how you’d like to spend your time and what activities will be meaningful to you in the future.

 

 

There is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with money, retirement, and other financial changes. Just as your life changes, so many the appropriate solution for you—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

Thank you for reading our three-part series on how to age well and how to plan for aging! We hope you learned something new, connected with a resource, tried one of our tips, or had thought-provoking discussions with loved ones. If you missed part one or part two in this series, you can read them here ( Part 1: Mobility and Transportation ) and here ( Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…” ?). As this series in our blog winds to a close the excitement for our June 4th, 2019, annual conference is just beginning! If you’d like to attend our 21st Annual Conference, “The ‘How-To’s’ for Aging Well,” go to njfoundationforaging.org for more information and to register! We hope to see you there on June 4th!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as office@njfoundationforaging.org.

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

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