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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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Lorna Prendergast, at 90, received a Master’s Degree in Aging from the University of Melbourne, having pursued her studies online for the most part. Her accomplishment just goes to show that seniors, although not brought up in the age of technology, are every bit as capable as younger generations to use technology to accomplish their dreams.

For Lorna, her interest in music and aging began when she visited her husband in a nursing home the last few years before he passed. She always loved and had great appreciation for music, but only after observing residents in the nursing home and their reactions to music that Lorna became intrigued with the potential of music’s positive influence on Alzheimer’s and related disorders. With that, she decided to learn more about it, and here she is, a new graduate, ready to use her skills and training to benefit others.



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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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João Staganelli Jr., at 64, who had to slow down at 60 due to a heart condition, could simply have settled for an R&R existence. But no! João, who some 30 years ago developed vitiligo (a disease, which although painless, causes the skin to lose pigment and color), decided to put his must-slow-down time to good use. He first learned amigurumi, a crochet technique used to craft plush toys, Then, he began making dolls that mirrored the vitiligo condition in an effort to improve vitiligo-afflicted children’s self-esteem. Representing a child in a doll that they could relate to is a powerful way of enhancing self-perception. João then began making dolls representing other challenging conditions children experience such as being wheelchair bound or visually impaired. To date he has crocheted some 200 dolls!



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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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Judy Peterson, at 75, received the 2018 Outstanding Senior Award at the Minnesota State Fair, not just for one volunteering effort, not even for two or three. Oh, no – the list of Judy’s regular volunteering activities is far more impressive. Judy visits patients at Itasca Hospice, oversees the receptionist volunteers at Itasca County Tax Aide, directs ElderCircle’s free grocery shopping and delivery program, helps coordinate food distribution to families in need with Ruby’s Pantry, serves with Habitat for Humanity, Open Door Coat Rack and more. She’s hoping to add volunteering as an usher volunteer at the Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids. Judy says her ongoing commitment to volunteering gives her a sense of purpose and of belonging, as well as friendships. This after raising her three children, and a career in the medical support field; as a medical transcriptionist, medical secretary, and manager of a medical equipment company. The title “Outstanding” certainly fits!



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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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