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Institute on Aging’s mission has always been dedicated to preserving the dignity, independence, and well-being of aging adults and people living with disabilities. It has been our focus for over 40 years.

Today, we suddenly find ourselves in a whole new world full of uncertainty and constantly evolving questions, with a global pandemic that our core audience is most susceptible. We aren’t just helping people with well-being and independence anymore; we are helping them protect themselves, survive mentally, cope with social isolation, and manage day-to-day living in unprecedented times.  

The Incident Command Team of the Institute has been monitoring the situation since the first case appeared in the US. Throughout this rapidly evolving period, we have relied on information provided by the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Public Health (DPH) in all operating counties, as well as partner organizations and funders. This team meets multiple times daily to assess changes and developments. In addition, there is a team who monitors changes throughout the day.

As shelter-in-place mandates have led us to suspend services such as enrichment day programs and limit access to community-based meals, we find ourselves stepping up in other areas that fit with social distancing guidelines, such as offering Home Care Services and increasing activity with our nationally recognized Friendship Line. We are, and will continue to be, a valued resource to at-risk seniors, as well as aging adults who may be feeling especially anxious, lonely and depressed during this time period.

More Help at Home

Many are wondering what will happen to our seniors ages 65 and older — the most vulnerable to medical complications as a result of coronavirus – if they are alone and without help. IOA’s home care program can help provide a bridge until daily life returns to normal. We provide personalized care for aging adults in their own home. We have licensed, bonded, and insured caregivers who can be scheduled to meet specific needs and we have hourly or 24/7 live-in care and overnight assistance. Just some of the many things we help with:

  • Companionship (even for just several hours a day)
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s care
  • Home safety evaluations
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Escorted transportation, errands, and accompaniment & light housekeeping

To find out more, please call our CONNECT line at 415-720-4111, or 650-424-1411.  

A Warm, Friendly Voice for Those Feeling Isolated

Our Friendship Line, which was founded 47 years ago by Dr. Patrick Arbore, is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people age 60 years and older and adults living with disabilities.

Volunteers who staff the linesassist clients, caretakers or anyone else in the community with social isolation questions, especially ones surrounding coronavirus. As participation in social activities wanes due to lockdowns, social isolation, loneliness and anxiety for seniors may increase. The Friendship Line can be a much-needed support service to aging adults at this time – we encourage you to provide the Friendship Line number to seniors who need a connection or a listening ear. Please note that our volunteers are not equipped to provide medical advice.  

We anticipate a large increase in volume in calls due to COVID-19 forcing more and more seniors to be isolated. As such, we are ramping up staffing and partners to be able to meet this growing need.

The Friendship Line was recently featured on ABC7 and featured on KQED Newsroom (IOA segment starts at 20:45).

The Friendship Line operates 24 hours a day with support in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese. 800-971-3073 (toll-free).

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in the weeks following the holidays, there is typically a spike in dementia diagnoses. People tend to spend more time with family members during the holiday season than almost any other time of the year, and so it’s more noticeable when Mom has trouble remembering where the napkins are, even though she’s stored them in the same place for years, or Dad has difficulty finishing a sentence or telling a story without rambling.

Alzheimer’s (and other forms of dementia) is all around us. The number of Americans being diagnosed with dementia is rising so rapidly that it’s inevitable that most of us will experience being in contact with a family member, friend or acquaintance of someone who has been diagnosed at some point in our lives.

Friends abandoning friends who have been recently diagnosed is more common than one thinks, according to this article in The Wall Street Journal. Friends of those who are diagnosed the disease either simply don’t know what to say, or worse, say nothing at all and disappear. Sadly, this happens whether it is a new friendship or a 30-year bond.

How to handle the situation? “First off, don’t disappear,” says Alison Moritz, Program Director for Institute on Aging’s Enrichment Center which offers social day programs for adults with dementia. “Hold the diagnosed person close and listen to them. Offer a sense of normalcy, such as going to the movies with them or having lunch together. Everyone involved needs to hold onto familiar rituals and a sense community, because they are collectively experiencing a loss.”

Adds Moritz, if it’s a parent of a friend who has been diagnosed, “don’t tell your friend it’s a ‘blessing’ to get to take care of their parent, or worse, share horror stories of what you’ve personally experienced. Let your friend ask for advice in his or her own time.”

Some other suggestion for interacting with a newly diagnosed friend:

Don’t Joke About Forgetfulness       

While you don’t want to come off as overly serious, there is a line between that and being too light about things. Making jokes in front of the person about their tendency to forget things is insensitive.

Listen, Listen and then Listen Some More

Matthew*, whose mother was diagnosed, shared that his friends either disappeared or said dismissive things like “well, at least you still have your mother” or “you’ll be good at this” or “everything happens for a reason.” In this case, the friends could have just listened to what he had to say or let him vent his feelings.

 Don’t Forget to Take Care of the Caregiver

When Rebecca* found out about her husband’s diagnosis, it was a dark and scary time for both of them and also a point when friendships became even more important to the couple. She also discovered she needed to be specific about her needs as her husband’s caregiver when friends offered to help, such as requesting that they take him out for a walk or to lunch when she needed a break. 

*names have been changed to protect privacy

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Isn’t it wonderful to know that love can bloom at ANY age? Valentine’s Day is here and love is in the air for everyone. In these modern times, there are so many interesting ways to meet new people and no matter your age it is smart to practice safety.

Online dating can be tricky! A caution about online dating from Shawna Reeves, IOA’s Director of Elder Abuse Prevention, “No sites vet their users, and it is impossible for a person to vet on their own due to the minimal amount of information available to users.” She adds, “All dating sites are ‘user beware’ at this time.” Reeves urges seniors to use caution and common sense, as there have been incidents of sex offenders registering on certain dating sites. Some simple rules to follow when meeting someone from an online site for the first time: set up the date in a public place such as a restaurant or coffee shop, don’t give out personal information right away (and keep it off your profile, as well as check your online privacy settings), and do a quick search on the person you are meeting beforehand.

As always there’s the old fashion way to meet potential dating partners too – through family and friends, through activities such as sporting events and singles clubs, and through religious organizations such as churches or synagogues.  

AARP has a great guide to “what to expect on your first date” when meeting someone new for the first time. The fun part of dating is experiencing feelings of nervousness and giddiness, like you did as a 13-year-old, if the date is going well! AARP also cautions that seniors should also be on high alert for warning signs such negative comments or an unwillingness to be forthright that could indicate the person is not a good match for you.

You’ve met someone that you enjoy spending time with. Great! But don’t go flinging fast-forward into a relationship without keeping your eyes open. Seniors can be one of the most vulnerable groups for online romance scams that can leave them feeling helpless, robbed or worse. Among other things, experts advise that older adults should ensure that their finances are safe and secure, especially if marriage or co-habitation is being discussed. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) offers these guidelines to avoid the Sweetheart Scam.  

While there are definitely several precautions to take, dating at an older age can be FUN and rewarding, and give seniors a new and refreshed outlook on life!

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As the famous chef Julia Child once said, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” At Institute on Aging, we’d like to add to that by saying, “People who love to eat and support their community are the best people.”

A time-honored tradition, Dinner á la Heart returns on February 4, 2020 for its 37th year in support of IOA. It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year and taps into what people already love to do—share a great meal with their friends and loved ones. We carefully curate a group of the Bay Area’s fine dining establishments, all of which offer either a prix fixe dinner or lunch that includes wine and coffee or tea. Tickets for the meals (purchased in advance on our site) range from $85 to $250 per person. Some of the iconic restaurants participating this year include Harris’ Steakhouse, Farallon, Le Central Bistro, Epic, One Market, Waterbar, Perbacco, and Sushi Ran.

Along with the restaurant dining series, IOA hosts a special dinner at a San Francisco venue on the same evening, which features a special guest of honor. This year, the dinner will be held at the St. Francis Yacht Club, where we will recognize Dinner á la Heart honoree Rita Semel, a longtime San Franciscan known for her humanitarian work bridging people from different backgrounds and faiths.

Rita is a longtime supporter of IOA and a dear friend of Lawrence Feigenbaum, MD, who originally founded the nation’s first geriatrics/adult day program at Mount Zion Hospital, a program that eventually evolved into the Institute on Aging. She is perhaps best known for her humanitarian work as the 25-year coordinator of the San Francisco Conference on Religion and Race, and the co-founder of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. During her time with both organizations, she worked tirelessly to promote equality and establish guidelines under which people from all backgrounds could be treated fairly. She also currently serves on the boards of Clinic by the Bay, Congregation Emanu-El, and Grace Cathedral; she was also appointed by former Mayor Edwin Lee to the Human Services Commission. Rita’s continual advocacy and contributions to the San Francisco community align with Institute on Aging’s mission to enhance the quality of life of aging adults and enable them to maintain their independence, well-being, and participation in the community.

Please join us on February 4 by taking part in Dinner á la Heart. Your stomach will thank you for a memorable dining experience, and your heart will thank you in making the difference in the lives of those around you.

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The holiday season can be tough for many seniors, especially when they live in the most expensive area of the United States and on a fixed income.

Not only that, but seniors in San Francisco are the fastest growing population, according to the Department of Disability and Aging Services. Currently, 23% of all residents are 60 or older and that percentage is only increasing as the population, as a whole, ages. 

Because many seniors live alone after spouses and friends die and family members moves away, thereby decreasing their social outlets, the holidays can be a challenging time for them. If you know someone in this situation, here are a few easy-to-do ideas on how you can help make their holiday feel a bit more joyful:

  1. Make sure they know that spending time with you is all you would like from them as a “gift” this year. Seniors on a fixed income may find gift giving to be daunting, so why not take the pressure off?  If they still want to give presents, perhaps help them out with a few creative, lower-cost gift ideas.
  2. Take time to talk about their favorite holiday memories. Many seniors remember their younger days when they were able to host dinners and gatherings, but may also feel sad that they can no longer do this. However, they may find comfort in reliving their memories of past holidays, and perhaps looking at old holiday photos and videos.
  3. Take a senior out on a car ride to see holiday lights. They can enjoy all of it from the comfort of a car seat. Bring along a thermos full of hot chocolate, and pull over in a particularly festive spot to enjoy a cup with them.
  4. If they are no longer able to decorate their living space, do it for them. Even a small wreath, a few ornaments or even a mini-Christmas tree can add a lot of cheer.
  5. Help them read their holiday cards. Many older people have exchanged cards with friends for many years, and this may be the only time they hear from those individuals. It’s often when people discover that someone they knew has passed on, which can be a reminder of their own impermanence. Take time to discuss what’s in the cards, and if they want, help them write a note of their own to send out. 

Remember that small, yet thoughtful, gestures can make big difference to an older adult, especially ones who live alone and are isolated. A little bit goes a long way.

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It’s no secret that the holidays can be rough for older adults who live alone and don’t have family members nearby. For many seniors, it can be downright depressing to spend a holiday without loved ones around. Doing something for someone in this situation, even if it is a small and simple gesture, can make a big difference. We’ve put together some ideas of things you can do to make a senior’s holiday season a little brighter and to feel a bit less lonely.


  • Bring a home cooked dinner to a homebound senior. If you can’t do it on Thanksgiving Day, perhaps the day after or the following weekend. Even better, make it a “date” by bringing dinner for two, and eat with them. More than the food, the senior will enjoy your company. Ask them questions about their past or their family. Most people love talking about their memories.
  • If you can’t deliver a meal in person, you can send a special meal from one of the senior’s favorite restaurants via a delivery service such as GrubHub or DoorDash. Many seniors don’t cook for themselves, or they may use meal services, so having a meal from a restaurant will feel like an extra special treat. Ask if the restaurant can deliver a note from you along with the meal. Or you can use a prepared meal delivery service, such as Luke’s Local or Good Eggs, to deliver a freshly cooked, made-to-order dinner. There are several choices in San Francisco as well as throughout California.
  • Instead of a late day meal, surprise a senior with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a bagel or muffin in the morning, along with some simple Fall flowers or perhaps a holiday decoration that they can enjoy during the season.
  • If the senior lives in a home with a yard, but can’t afford gardening services, show up with some gardening tools and clean up outside. Bring the senior a cup of hot cider and cookie, and invite them to sit outside and visit with you while you work.
  • Most of us need a change of scenery now and again, and seniors are no different. Ask them if they’d like to go with you on a walk, or to a local park where they can watch kids or dogs play. Or take them on a local shopping trip to pick up something new that they want or need. It doesn’t have to be a big or a long outing, and it will give them a breath of fresh air.
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Fa la la la la la la la la! Our annual (and wildly popular) Cable Car Caroling event is back for its 35th season. Each year, IOA supporters will board holiday bedecked motorized cable cars and wind their way through the streets of San Francisco, offering vocal merriment along the way to isolated older adults and adults living with disabilities at assisted living centers, skilled nursing facilities and private homes. It’s a toss-up between who enjoys it more…those doing the singing, or the ones being serenaded. One thing’s for sure—everyone has a smile on their face!

This annual fundraising event draws hundreds of participants—last year, more than 550 carolers brought joy to more than 1,000 seniors and adults living with disabilities across the city. At the end of the multicultural caroling event, participants will be treated to goodies from a local taco truck as well as festive hot chocolate.

This year’s songfest happens on Saturday, December 7, so get your tickets now! Proceeds support the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line, the nation’s only accredited (American Association of Suicidology) 24-hour toll-free hotline for seniors and adults living with disabilities. 

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Two years ago, Scientific American released a startling story that took social media by storm. The story was based on a research study done on aging mice which found that delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC for short), the active ingredient in marijuana that can cause psychoactive effects and cognitive impairment, can have a positive effect on the hippocampus part of the brain which controls memory and learning.

Researchers didn’t stop with testing aging mice; they also performed similar tests on young and mature (middle-aged) mice. In the young mice, those exposed to THC exhibited cognitive impairment. In other words, they acted stoned. Whereas the older mice actually exhibited some signs of benefiting from marijuana use, such as sprouting additional synaptic spines, thereby increasing communication between neurons—resulting in more efficiently working brain cells.

The study has fueled discussions about the possibility that cannabis may help the brains of older adults function better. While this may seem hard to believe, it appears that THC and other external “cannabinoids” found in cannabis plants have the capacity to act as anti-aging molecules, or at least, improve cognitive function.

It could be a matter of enhancing what we already have. For years, medical professionals have known that our human brains naturally contain lots of marijuana-like molecules, called endogenous cannabinoids which activate specific brain receptors. While we have plenty of these when we are young, they decrease as we age. Therefore, it makes sense the brains of older people, who have naturally lost their endogenous cannabinoids over time due to aging, may indeed benefit from the THC supplied by marijuana and resulting additional cannabinoids (keeping in mind that this study was done on mice and not humans, so this has yet to be fully proven). Research aside, there is a distinct trend of older adults embracing marijuana use (and not just for medicinal purposes) in the 11 states and the District of Columbia where it is now legal. In California, where possession and recreational use of cannabis became officially legal on January 1, 2018, older adults are turning to cannabis use in record numbers according to this story in AARP. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans 55 and older now say smoking pot is morally acceptable. Perhaps these older adults have simply figured out something when it comes to cannabis use, whether it’s to relieve aches and pains, relax and have a good time, or possibly giving their brain a little boost now and then.

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By Shawna Reeves, Director of Elder Abuse Prevention

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As we reflect on the pain and trauma caused by domestic violence, Institute on Aging would like to make sure that older adults are not left out of this very important conversation.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Domestic violence affects people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, religions and genders. An older person who is abused by an intimate partner may have suffered in silence for decades only to have the abuse discovered – or acknowledged – later in life. Some seniors may find themselves entering into new relationships that bring physical or emotional pain. Domestic violence can be financial as well; an increasing number of older adults are using online dating sites to find love, only to find economic ruin and heartbreak instead.

What can we do as a society to address domestic
violence among older adults? 

First, we can listen without judgment. Domestic violence survivors are not timid or weak-willed, nor are they suffering from self-delusion. Just because a domestic violence survivor is an older adult, it does not mean they are suffering from dementia or do not understand the situation they are in. People remain in abusive relationships for many reasons, chief among them that it can be lethal to leave. In addition, a domestic violence survivor often relies economically or socially on an abuser. To leave the abuser could mean losing one’s home, access to food, or being cut off from friends and family.

Next, we can take steps to support the domestic
violence survivor. In California, anyone who falls into the category of
“mandated reporter,” which includes caregivers and health care workers, is
legally required to report elder and dependent adult abuse. The list of
mandated reporters is extensive; you can check to see if you are a mandated
reporter here.
 If you suspect an older adult you know
is currently in an abusive relationship, and you are a mandated reporter, you
must report the situation to Adult
Protective Services
(or, call 911 if the older adult is at
imminent risk of harm). Those who are not mandated reporters can also make
reports to Adult Protective Services. In addition, putting the older adult in
touch with local
domestic violence resources
or the National Domestic Violence Hotline can
be extremely helpful and empowering.

Fighting domestic violence against older adults is a
community effort. In October, as well as all year round, Institute on Aging is
with you in this fight.

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Carolers young and old will gather Saturday, December 1st for one of Institute on Aging’s most beloved events, the 34th Annual Cable Car Caroling. This multicultural songfest brings holiday cheer to isolated older adults and adults living with disabilities at assisted living centers, skilled nursing facilities and individual homes across San Francisco.

More than 500 volunteers aboard 15 motorized cable cars will traverse the city, visiting about 60 locations over the course of the day. The holiday season is a joyous time of year but for those who are lonely it can be difficult, and that’s where the carolers come in, bringing smiles and laughter to those who may not have another opportunity.

‘A profound experience’

Few can speak to the impact of Cable Car Caroling better than Ken Donnelly, CEO of the Heritage on the Marina retirement center and a member of the Cable Car Caroling board. Donnelly says Heritage on the Marina has been participating in the event since 2013 and he has no plans to stop.

“It’s a wonderful event, for both carolers and recipients,” he says. “Not only do the carolers feel that they are bringing joy to their older neighbors, but they also see the various environments they live in and the frailties they deal with each day.”

As the CEO of a facility and a caroler himself, Donnelly says it’s a particularly moving day for him, but he says it truly is the older adults who benefit the most.

“They appreciate people from the greater community taking time to come and spread good cheer,” he says. “I think the carolers’ singing oftentimes reminds them of a happy time for them.”

Uplifting holiday atmosphere

“We see more than 1,000 seniors in a day,” says Tamara Cameron, IOA’s Events Manager. “For a lot of them, this is the only holiday celebration they get. It’s really special to do that for someone you know isn’t going to have anything else.”

Cameron says the participants represent every segment of the community.

“We have a ton of families, we have a group of Brownies who come out,” she says. “We have a woman who does this as her holiday celebration every year, then she and her friends meet at her home for dinner afterward. Everybody is represented. Some of our IOA employees come out, too!”

Cameron says the joyous atmosphere on the day of the event is infectious.

“The holiday spirit it creates is my favorite thing about Cable Car Caroling,” she says. “People show up in their holiday clothes, they are so excited to be there – it’s just a very uplifting day.”

The older adults at the facilities are always touched by it, as well.

“It’s a win-win because it is such a gift on both ends,” Cameron says. “It’s a gift for them to have us sing to them and it’s a gift for us to get the opportunity.”

Festive fun for a good cause

Imagine a world where you are alone – isolated and vulnerable; feeling hopeless, invisible, worthless, and unloved. For too many seniors and adults living with disabilities, this is a reality. Isolation and loneliness plague too many and it is extremely detrimental not just to the quality of life but overall health. Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).

Friendship Line provides a literal lifeline to these isolated individuals. Friendship Line, founded in 1973 by Dr. Patrick Arbore, Director of IOA’s Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention, makes and receives almost 150,000 calls per year to reach out to those feeling alone. By providing a warm voice to speak to and a person to connect with, this service provides an ally, a friend, and most importantly a human connection. The calls made at Friendship Line fill these secluded individuals with hope, purpose, and meaning. After the calls, they feel seen and heard – acknowledged in a way they haven’t for a very long time. It restores a light within that had dwindled. At its core, Friendship Line provides the human connections that bind us to life.

Last year, Cable Car Caroling raised more than $100,000 for this vital service.

A family tradition since day one

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of Cable Car Caroling is Zak Arbore, Patrick’s son, who has participated every year since the very beginning. Now in his second year as co-chair of the event alongside his wife, Renee Russo, Arbore says he can still remember the inaugural year.

“I was 4 or 5 years old when it started,” he says. “My early memories are of the smells, sights and sounds of the places we visited. The cable cars were so fun. Some of the cars used to have a bell in the back and I remember ringing them a lot.

As he’s grown older, so has his appreciation for Cable Car Caroling, both the event itself and what it means for the Friendship Line his father started. The sense of community the event creates, he says, is why he keeps coming back.

“When all the carolers come back together and share a meal together, there is an incredible sense of accomplishment,” he says.

To be sure, Arbore says, Cable Car Caroling is a family affair.

“My Dad started the Friendship Line and I have grown up in and around his work,” Arbore says. “My mom has always been a part of it, too; she is usually our song leader on our car. And now my wife and a lot of her family are staunch cable car carolers.”

How to take part

Cameron says the event always sells out, so if you want to carol, you should sign up as soon as possible. Those who can’t or don’t wish to participate can also donate online at give.ioaging.org/ccc. You can also sign up to take the Cable Car Challenge, wherein every $200 you raise earns you a ticket to the event (with a minimum donation of $200).

Anyone on the fence about caroling, Arbore says, should go for it.

“The holiday spirit has never been as tangible as when you are participating in Cable Car Caroling,” he says. “You are riding a motorized cable car through a world class city, you are vising elderly people who do not get many visitors ever and you are the star of the show. You can throw your voice into the group’s song and wait to see those elders’ eyes light up with joy and hope for the future.”

For more information visit www.ioaging.org/ccc.

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Samaritan is focused on one goal – ensuring the comfort of our clients. We strive to keep individuals healthy and independent. We thoroughly assess your needs and select the appropriate caregiver to ensure compatibility.

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