Clarence Darrow was a legendary trial lawyer who had extraordinary success in finding disproportionate leniency and innocence for his clients. His success was predicated on the principle that it was more difficult for juries to make severe judgements once they understood why a defendant was what he was.

Darrow would delineate for a jury all the social and personal forces that shaped a defendant’s character and directed his behavior.  Darrow was extraordinarily good at it and most trial lawyers today emulate him to some degree.

“Is this the one?” That’s what my 79-year-old mother says thinks when she falls. As she begins to tumble, she wonders, “Will this be the end of living on my own?”

She has reason to be concerned.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. Each year, millions of people age 65 and older fall, but less than half tell their doctor per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

A few months ago I shared with readers the Music & Memory Program we were preparing to launch through the Senior Companion Program at the Area Agency on Aging. Recently, I’ve been asked many questions about the program, so I thought I share the progress

For new readers, the basis of the Music & Memory Program is to make connections, through personalized iPod playlists, with clients who have advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that hearing music from their lives produces many positive effects – not just while they’re listening, but beyond that time. 

Questions and Answers

  1. Is it true that we can use our MI Bridge Card at local farm markets?
  1. As the summer begins and our state’s outdoor growing season opens, there are increased opportunities for people to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  The Michigan Farm Market Association reports there are over 150 farm markets across Michigan that are certified to accept SNAP benefits such as the Bridge Card, Double Up Food Bucks, and WIC and Senior Project FRESH vouchers.  

Three of the larger, weekly markets are as follows:  Benton Harbor, on Wednesdays, 10am-3pm, at Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park; South Haven, on Saturdays and Wednesdays, 8am-2pm, at the Huron Street Pavilion; and Three Rivers, on Thursdays, 1-6pm, at 138 North Michigan Avenue.  To find other locations, you can go to  In addition, in Berrien County, there is a mobile farmers market, supplied by Andrews University student gardens, with multiple sites around the county weekly, and this also accepts Bridge Cards.  Finally, the Feed America Food Truck has multiple locations for free food distribution around Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties this summer.  For the schedule of the Be Healthy Berrien mobile farmer market or Feed America Food Truck, please contact the Info-Line for Aging & Disability, at 800-654-2810, and we can direct you to a site near you.

Lori’s life took an abrupt change when a spinal cord infarction left her paralyzed with only use of her left arm. Describing her husband as “her best friend”, they tried to figure out what to do. An electric wheelchair helped, but not being able to stand or even transfer to a chair alone made daily life overwhelming. Unable to afford daily assistance in the home, a nursing home was recommended.

There’s a happy ending. Lori is one of 1,173 southwest Michigan residents who received life-sustaining Medicaid funded support in the home though Michigan’s MI Choice program last year. She and her husband enjoy life, have their grandchildren over, and continue to relish their years.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.”

      – Daniel Patrick Moynihan

President Trump’s recent decision to have the United States withdraw from the Paris climate agreement reveals to us that there are even more divisions among the American citizenry on global issues that threaten to deepen and make consensus on solutions more difficult, even in the face of wide international agreement.

Thirty-five years ago, few Americans were concerned about global warming and its impact on our way of life.  And even fewer looked forward to a mobilization to offset the negative consequences of an increasingly hot world. So even today many older Americans still feel they have the luxury of being able to argue about whether global climate change is real or not.

“We become the average of the five people we associate with the most.” This quote is still resonating with me after my return from a 3-day training conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

As with most conferences, there were many workshop sessions to choose from, as well as keynote speakers at opening and close of the conference. It was a great conference, full of take-aways for my specific roles at the Area Agency on Aging. But the recurring theme of that quote is sticking to me like glue.

Who do I choose to surround myself with? If those choices indeed predict my potential, am I intentional enough about making them? Or, do I take a path of least resistance, letting those relationships develop by default?

The preamble to the federal Older Americans Act enacted in 1965 is beautiful in its language and masterful in its design. It lays out the guiding principles and structural foundation for how we as a nation will plan for the aging of America and capitalize on the strengths of an aging population.


In part, it reads… “The Congress hereby finds and declares that, in keeping with the traditional American concept of the inherent dignity of the individual in our democratic society, the older people of our Nation are entitled to, and it is the joint and several duty and responsibility of the governments of the United States, of the several States and their political subdivisions, and of Indian tribes to assist our older people to secure equal opportunity to the full and free enjoyment of the following objectives…”


Questions and Answers

  1. My former employer is discontinuing retiree health care coverage of our prescriptions and supplemental insurance, what do I do?
  1. When your Medicare Part D Prescription drug coverage ends due to life changes, such as death, divorce, relocation, or as in your case, loss of creditable drug coverage from another source, then you qualify to sign up for a new drug plan, outside of the open enrollment period, without penalty.  You can do this by going online to and clicking on “Find Health and Drug Plans.”  If you don’t have computer access or aren’t comfortable going online, the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) has counselors certified by the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) who are available to assist in objectively reviewing your current drug plan and comparing other Medicare drug plan choices.  This service is free and confidential. 

“Those jobs are never coming back.” – Steve Jobs, referring to the 5,000 people working at FoxConn, Apple’s China-based assembly facility.


If there were an issue at center stage during the recent presidential campaign, it was the plight of the American middle class and the need for decent-paying jobs to sustain it.

Now as president, Donald Trump has proposed legislation to follow through on his promise, a tack generally in line with the perspective of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

The proposal centers on tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. The notion is predicated on the belief that if more revenue is in the hands of those living comfortably on more passive income, they can invest their discretionary income to create good jobs to support the middle class.

“Grandma, did you see the picture of me at the dance recital? Mom posted it on Facebook.” “Grandpa, did you see the video of me hitting that homerun? It’s on YouTube and it has over 100 views”.  More and more conversation between seniors and their grandchildren start like this. It’s a mixture of familiar ideas and what seems like a foreign language. Even conversations with adult children have become more difficult to understand. “Mom, I PDF’d that document to you last week. Have you looked in your Inbox?” “Dad, you know you can download that article directly to the cloud”. 

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
~Mother Theresa

Susan and Nancy grew up a few miles apart but never met until a common need brought them together. The need for purpose, meaning, and a reason to get up in the morning.

Both women worked long careers but found themselves floundering after retirement.

Questions and Answers about Food and Nutrition

Q.  Are there any resources for food that are just for people over 60?

A.  The Commodity Supplement Food Program (CSFP) is a program that provides a box of food every month for income-eligible individuals who are 60+ years of age.  Household income needs to be at or below 130% of federal poverty level and individuals must sign up with an authorized CSFP distribution site.  In Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties, these distribution sites range from area senior centers and churches to township halls and fixed-income apartment complexes.  Additionally, the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) distributes a box of food quarterly to any eligible individual or household, regardless of age.  To find out more about these programs, and locate a site near you, contact Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency at 269-925-9077.

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” Winston Churchill

A perk of working in the field of aging is learning from so many great people ahead of me on the journey. Sharing one’s talent has a lot to do with quality of life.

                Not only is volunteering a win-win on a personal level, when you target effort towards real social need, amazing things happen.  Passion and action is stirred toward betterment; life improves. The cost of change? Amazingly low.

The concept of personal freedom has been a mainstay of our nation from its inception. It’s used in political speeches, chants at rallies, songs and sermons, and patriotic pledges.

It can, however, mean different things to different Americans. Most of us see the Bill of Rights as our national testament to freedom. And on the eve of World War II, President Roosevelt gave our beliefs in freedom new dimension by proposing his Four Freedoms to a citizenry crushed by the Great Depression– Freedom of Speech and Worship, Freedom from Want and Fear.

For caregivers whose loved one lives in their home, it can be overwhelming in ways they never imagined. It doesn’t matter how good our intentions or how committed we are to doing the right thing, it is near impossible to be prepared for the caregiving role. ‘Normal’ has taken a turn, and we must adjust quickly.

You and your spouse now take turns going to the grocery store, the post office, the bank, the gas station… You carefully synch your calendars to be sure one of you is always home.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. ~Edward Everett Hale

Nate Whitelow, or Grandpa Nate as neighborhood children know him, doesn’t let what he cannot do interfere with what he can do.

Grandpa Nate cannot change the fact that 50% of third graders in his community are not able to read at a third-grade level. But he can volunteer four days a week at the Discovery Center Preschool helping kids develop early learning skills so they’re prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed in school.

Nate also cannot alter the fact that 28% of students in Berrien and Cass counties do not graduate on time. But he can spend summers at the Boys and Girls Club building relationships with kids who need a positive role model and mentor.

A life-long Benton Harbor resident and retired Benton Harbor Schools classroom para-professional, 65-year-old Nate has a passion and commitment for the young people he mentors and their families.

Questions and Answers about Taxes

Q.  Where can I get my taxes done free-of-charge?

A.  If you are computer savvy and made less than $64,000 in 2016, you can file your taxes online at  This free and safe service includes live tax support, via email, chat or phone, to answer any questions you have.  If you made less than $54,000 in 2016 and need assistance in preparing your tax return, there are several places where trained volunteers will prepare basic federal and state tax returns, as well as homestead property tax credit and home heating credit, for low-income individuals, seniors, and persons with disabilities.  Complex tax returns and those involving business pursuits need to be completed through a tax preparation service. 

Several friends expressed excitement about approaching retirement dates. It’s exciting to shift from lifestyle fused into a heavy work schedule to one of deserved rest and change. The answer as to what’s planned after retirement was a common one - nothing for awhile. 

The thought of life without pressure is so unique for persons coming out of decades of work, many want simply to let themselves float a bit to see what it feels like. Understandable.

I’m not ignoring you. I just didn’t hear you say hello.

If you catch me looking at your mouth when you speak, I’m not checking for spinach in your teeth. I’m watching your lips to help be sure I hear you correctly, or at least better guess what you’re saying.

Like most adults, it’s been decades since I last had my hearing checked by a health professional.  But I know I’ve been failing important everyday hearing tests for years.