We’ve all read and heard a lot lately about the difficulties and uncertain future of several of our Benton Harbor schools. It’s a complex issue. The fallout of a decision to close any of those schools is unimaginable. I don’t have the answers, but my heart breaks at the thought of the upheaval in the lives of those families and neighborhoods. Students are worried, parents are anxious, and there’s another part of the population that’s deeply invested in the lives of those families – and very concerned for their futures.

It’s hard to work if you struggle to breathe.

It’s hard to buy medicine to help you breathe if you can’t work.

That was Rhonda’s quandary.

Rhonda is 64 years old and was raising two grandchildren while trying to keep her job at a local small business. She has multiple chronic illnesses and she could not afford the medicine that would help her to breathe making it difficult to work.

Rhonda says she finally had to retire early because she “just couldn’t breathe."

Questions and Answers about Medicaid and Long-Term Care

Q:  I always hear that you have to “spend down” all your assets in order to get help paying for a nursing home.  What does that really mean?

A:  For individuals on Medicare, there can be some coverage for days of nursing home care after an approved hospital stay, but for extended or permanent stays in a skilled nursing facility, the cost is the responsibility of the individual.  Some people have long term care insurance that helps pay, and some people have extensive financial resources to help pay, but most people cannot sustain the out-of-pocket cost of nursing home care for very long. 

Glaciers have always fascinated me. The idea of a river of ice that flowed so slow that movement would be measured in inches per year was hard to comprehend as a child. During college years, when I worked by Glacier National Park, the few glaciers still there were mere remnants, difficult at times to distinguish from snow fields.

It wasn’t until visiting Alaska for the first time that the reality of a glacier cleared in my brain. Entire mountain valleys were filled with ice; twisting their way downward towards water. When two valleys of ice came together, rock debris from each edge formed a thick black line down the center of the resulting merged glacier and could be seen clearly from the air. Viewed at water’s edge, the glacier’s mammoth ice face rose hundreds of feet above the water. 

As a young adult, I remember the day I called to let my parents know I’d gotten a job. Did it come with health insurance was my mother’s first question. Yes, was the answer; I could feel the relief over the phone. My parents had impressed on me the importance of insurance but at that age I really didn’t understand exactly how important it was.

Now I do. Over decades at Area Agency on Aging, we’ve heard literally thousands of stories from people of all walks of life trying to access the health care they need. For eleven years I served on a council appointing persons to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Board of Directors to represent small business and individuals seeking coverage. Through Healthy Berrien Consortium we examined trends in access to care and established the Berrien Health Plan to provide basic health care for some of the uninsured.

By now most of us are back into a regular routine after the holidays. Our trees have been picked up from the curbs, decorations are down and presents put away. The only holiday remnant is when our feet find those pine needle stragglers. Hopefully, we also have some special memories of enjoying time with family and friends.  

Questions and Answers

Q:  We have a neighbor who doesn’t seem to get out much.  His family is not local and we try to help him by shoveling and picking items up at the store now and then.  I don’t think he has any serious health problems, he just doesn’t seem to know what to do, or even care about socializing.  What sort of resources are available that might help him become more active?

 

If someone were to ask me my most memorable Christmas, I would say … the Christmas that fell on New Year’s Day.

Along with a few thousand other U.S. Army draftees and recruits at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was in the final stages of basic training with the winter holidays coming upon us. It was decided that half of our battalion would go home on leave for Christmas and the other half would go home for New Year’s Day. I would go home with the New Year’s group.

Music & Memory

More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's, a disease for which there is no cure. One in eight baby boomers will get the disease, according to estimates. About 15 million family members in the U.S. are locked into what can become a heartbreaking nightmare of taking care of a loved one with whom they can't communicate. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may reach a projected 13.8 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Multiple generations living in one household is nothing new. Throughout our history children, parents and grandparents have shared life together in the same home often out of financial necessity, other times out of convenience.

What is new is the number of children who are being parented by grandparents. In the 1980s there were 2 million children under 18 living in the home of a grandparent, now there are 4 million nationwide and the number is growing. In Michigan 152,400 children under the age of 18 currently live in homes where the householder is a grandparent. Of those, nearly 26,000 have no parent in the home.

Questions and Answers about Emergency Response Systems

Q:  My doctor said I should get a medical alert bracelet but I think he meant the button to push to call for help.  There are so many confusing terms and products, where do I start?

 

A:  It is confusing when so many different products have such similar names.  A medical alert or ID is generally defined as some piece of  jewelry, usually a bracelet or a tag on a neck chain, which can quickly identify to medical responders that an individual has a certain diagnosis that needs attention, ie. food or drug allergy, diabetes, or epilepsy, and this condition might be the cause for the person being unresponsive or having a seizure.  These IDs can be as simple as a metal bracelet with a medical symbol on it, all the way to something with an imbedded microchip that contains a person’s full medical and emergency contact information.

A colleague recently sent me a clear synopsis of how to recognize a stroke. Given that a friend had recently experienced one of these signs, it rang especially true for me.

In my friend’s situation, she had been talking to her husband while doing dishes; he was at the other end of the counter watching golf on TV. Responding to her in casual conversation, he began his response, and stopped. He started again, and stopped. She turned, he motioned with a worried look; only scattered partial words would come out. All motor skills were intact, but he couldn’t voice a simple sentence.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP, an estimated 44 million Americans age 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community. In most cases the care is provided by family members, and often the caregiver is living in the same residence.

It started small.

Rhonda’s mom needed help with household chores. “I was happy to pitch in. I didn’t think of myself as a caregiver at first, just a daughter helping her mom,” Rhonda says.

Over time, the quick stops after work turned into a daily before-and-after work routine.

“Gradually I found myself spending several hours a day helping mom with everything from paying bills and shopping to organizing her medicine and helping with personal things like getting dressed and help getting back to bed at night,” Rhonda says.

Questions and Answers About Aging and Driving

Q:  My children want me to stop driving.  I think I am doing fine and I have not had any tickets or accidents but they say it is only a matter of time.  What can I do to prove I am still a good driver?

 

A:  There might be nothing you can do to prove to your children you should still be driving if they have decided for some reason you should not.  There are things you can do for yourself, however, to ensure you are as safe as possible.  It is important to recognize that as we age, our eyesight can weaken, depth perception can change, and our reaction time can decrease.  If your children have specific concerns, you should try to address those with them.  Have an honest, forthright discussion about the pros and cons of continuing to drive.  Talk about what other options are available and if your children are willing to help with your transportation needs, for instance.

A woman I knew was worried. She had a good head for business and had done well managing a host of little investments that added up to a nice sum. A recent purchase she’d made however, was weighing on her mind. She asked her daughter to look into it. Her deepest fear was realized. Instead of a $2500 investment buying a nice chance for growth, she’d fallen victim to a scam.

Aging is a good thing and every stage of life is one to be valued. That said, I admit that when someone says, “You don’t look your age, how do you do it?” I’m glad.

My usual response is to tell them it’s due to “clean livin’.” For some reason, this almost always elicits a chuckle or even an outright belly laugh. Perhaps these people know me better than I think.

What’s your reason for getting up in the morning? The French call it your “raison d'être”. Costa Ricans call it “plan de vida” and Okinawans call it “ikigai”. However you say it, research published in Psychological Science shows people who have a sense of purpose live longer, better lives. The study, conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York and Carleton University in Ontario, looked at how 6,000 adults of all ages answered survey questions like “Some people wander aimlessly through live, but I am not one of them” and other questions that measured individuals’ sense of purpose.

Asking around about favorite holiday memories, common themes come up. Childhood surprises and traditions are big. Special foods, traditional blessings, decorations, and song abound. But through all those things, the common thread is people.

We need each other; relationships are special. Family is usually front and center, but special memories and times often reach beyond family.

Sharing a low beach fire with grandchildren on a late summer night while watching a red crescent moon set silently into the lake is unbeatable. Far from any town or light, as blackness descends, the night sky unlocks a limitless treasure trove of stars; unimaginable in distance or dimension. We crane our necks to try to take it in. The vastness and density of stars, milky way, occasional satellite or rare prize of a shooting star bind us in common awe. It’s a prize night.

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