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Senior Companions Create Lasting Friendships January 9, 2017

At 95 years old, Syble Lee can't get around like she used to. A hearing problem and some other illnesses have made common undertakings like preparing meals, walking and doing dishes more difficult than they used to be. Add to that the fact that her daughter, Dorothy Griffiths, has to sometimes be gone for large portions of the day, and you can see that Syble needs help.

That is where Council on Aging of West Florida's Senior Companion program comes in. Eva Cook has been a Senior Companion since September of 2016 and, as she is assigned to Syble, has been the saving grace Syble and her daughter have needed.

"Some relatives of mine have participated in some of Council on Aging's services and they told me I should give them a call," said Dorothy. "I did, and it wasn't long until my mom was paired with Ms. Cook, who has just been a delight. She's part of the family."

Eva helps do the dishes, prepare meals, and socialize with Syble. The relationship has grown from one of caregiving to a genuine friendship with mutual benefits.

"I love talking about the good old days," said Eva. "We have a good rapport and I really do feel like part of the family. I used to work with children, building relationships with them and helping them however they need. I just enjoy helping people."

According to Dorothy, Syble has long had trust issues and was worried about being left with a relative stranger. Those fears have long since been put to ease, though, as Syble has now come to depend on Eva.

"We have a lot in common," said Syble. "I love when she makes me breakfast. She helps with whatever I need."

Dorothy even reported that her mother will fall asleep when it is just her and Eva in the house - a sign of trust and confidence in her Senior Companion's abilities and concern for her new friend.

Dorothy also said that Eva is the relief that she sometimes needs, being that she is the only immediate family that lives nearby.

"Some members of my family aren't the most dependable," said Dorothy. "I don't want to reach out to them for help, but sometimes I need a break. Before Eva, I was honestly considering having to put my mother in a home. Thank goodness for Eva. It is a match made in heaven."

The three routinely go to doctors' appointments and complete other errands together. Thanks to the Senior Companion program, Syble is able to continue living with family, in a home, and enjoys many of the amenities of life that become limited in an institutional setting. By committing just about 20 hours a week to conversing with and helping Syble, Eva has made a world of difference


New Years Resolutions for Aging Adults January 3, 2017

It's the new year, and if you haven't yet determined how you will focus on self-improvement in 2017, don't worry: we've got you covered! Small, incremental steps are the key to successful life-changes, and while popular choices like weight loss or better financial security are admirable, there are a few key issues older adults should especially focus on.

  • Light physical activity a few times a week. Even for those with mild heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's can engage in walking, stretching, water aerobics and more with the help of a caregiver. Plus, moderate exercise can even help those conditions get better!
  • Look out for falls. Believe it or not, one in three senior citizens fall each year, resulting in preventable injuries. Why not use the new year to practice exercises that improve balance - like walking with an elastic band - and check with your doctor if any medication you are on may lead to dizziness? Plus, go ahead and throw out that old rug you've been meaning to get rid of: they are easy to trip over.
  • Make old friends. You read that right. As we age and move apart, we may lose touch with old pals and confidantes. 2017 should be your year to reignite dormant friendships through social media, a phone call, or (gasp!) a handwritten note.
  • Get enough sleep. Older adults are done growing, so they don't need as much sleep as younger people, right? Wrong! They need just as much, so be sure to avoid those daytime naps, which feel so good but keep you up at night. Seven to 8 hours is recommended, but a little more time in a comfy bed - especially during the frigid months - couldn't hurt, right?
  • Work on your (brain) fitness. Reading, completing crossword puzzles, and even struggling through a challenging Sudoku can not only keep you occupied and provide a great social activity; it can also keep your mind sharp and your wit quick! You can even take a free college course through the University of West Florida's Leisure Learning program. Learn something new or rediscover something old!

No matter how you decide to tackle the new year, make sure you finish out 2017 stronger than you started it. Just be sure to set realistic goals, like the ones set above, that provide a real, tangible benefit in both the short- and long-term.


When Happily Ever After Ends December 20, 2016

The termination of any relationship is complicated and heartbreaking for both parties, but the effects are exacerbated when that relationship is a lifelong marriage and the participants are in their golden years. For one reason or another, the divorce rates of those in their 50s and beyond has doubled in the last three decades, giving rise to an often undiscussed epidemic that many have dubbed "gray divorce."

Apart from the financial considerations - such as split retirement, alimony and who keeps the paid-off house - there are many psychological and mental health issues that arise. And while both parties may be older and wiser than when their high school crush broke up with them after a summer fling, the ensuing feelings can be devastating and difficult to manage.

The one silver lining is that many older adults rely heavily on their grown children for emotional support. They also do not have to deal with the messy custody issues that many younger couples face. Older children are also more understanding of relationship struggles and will not be as likely to "pick sides" as they may have been in their younger years.

Perhaps not surprisingly, older couples divorce for often the same reasons as those in their 30s and 40s, according to Christa Moody, a licensed mental health professional who practices in Pensacola.

"Sometimes, there is a success disparity where one individual does not find the fulfillment in their marriage that they do in their career and social circles," said Moody. "Other times, it is dishonesty and infidelity. Regardless, it is always true that the one who does not share the feelings of divorce will be disproportionately affected." When that happens, Moody said, coping mechanisms are vital. "You can feel like things are out of your control, so it's important to rely on friends, engage your social circles, see a counselor if you feel depressed or unsure, and engage in light physical activity like walking or yoga," said Moody.

For senior citizens who already struggle with social anxiety and depression - or for those whose friends and siblings are no longer around - this can be an especially difficult time.

"There is a correlation between lack of social connectedness and depression," said Moody. "I tell my clients to rely on their faith and spirituality if that is something they express. You can also join a civic organization, attend divorce workshops at your local place of worship, or even get involved in a free college class."

Online dating is also quite popular among older Americans, and whether those connections lead to a short-term spark or something more meaningful, it is important to not wallow in sadness for too long. In fact, as many as 20 percent of single seniors use dating apps.

However, most experts recommend waiting at least until the divorce is finalized before getting back out there. This time can help you process your feelings and work through whatever shortcomings the experience may have identified. Not only can a premature jump into the dating pool polarize friends and jeopardize legal proceedings, it can actually make you feel more alone than ever.

"When they are ready to get back out there, many seniors actually find great success," said Moody. "There's this notion that you shouldn't bother in any sort of relationship investment in your golden years, but many people actually feel liberated and can reclaim a teenage sense of fun." 

Through it all, it is important to be aware of your own feelings, your own boundaries, and your own goals. If you do find a special someone and desire another go at tying the knot, most experts recommend a prenuptial agreement, as repeat marriages are more likely to end in divorce.

No one can say how long it takes to get over a lifelong love, and many never fully recover, but with some professional help, light physical activity, and a shot at putting yourself back out there, you may surprise yourself.


Meals on Wheels program makes world of difference for senior citizen December 13, 2016

The first things you notice about Mamie Powe is her warm, welcoming spirit, her quick wit, and how she doesn't let her age or slight hearing loss get in the way of either. She has been living in her current residence "forever," and wouldn't have it any other way. Her daughter, Emmia Brown, lives just down the street and her dog Coco can often be found sun-bathing outside.

Mamie isn't as mobile as she used to be and suffers from some of the common ailments that plague many elders. As such, it is not as easy as it once was to do basic cooking tasks like boil a pot of noodles or grill some chicken. Thankfully, she has been enrolled in the Council on Aging of West Florida's Meals on Wheels program for about three years. She has come to rely on the ready-made microwaveable meals for a majority of her sustenance.

"I especially like the chicken, spaghetti and greens," said Mamie. "I get six meals a week and it's easy to just warm them up and eat."

Mamie is homebound, and before Meals on Wheels, she relied on Emmia to cook food almost daily, a task that added to her daughter's already busy schedule of transporting her to and from doctor's appointments, church, and other community activities. Other friends and family would also help out occasionally, but Meals on Wheels has provided a consistency to Mamie and Emmia's life that relieves a lot of stress and concern.

"I stay pretty busy taking care of her," said Emmia, who actually used to work at the Council on Aging about 20 years ago. "Meals on Wheels has helped a lot and made it easier on me."

Emmia said that she has been more than pleased with the service for her mother. She now has time to make breakfast in the mornings, something she loves doing. She also said that some of the Meals on Wheels portions are so large for her mother that there are leftovers for later meals.

Though she still needs help with other daily needs such as cleanup and keeping up with appointments, Mamie said that she feels better knowing that she doesn't have to worry about food.

"It has helped me a lot," said Mamie. After looking over at her daughter, she continued, "It's helped her a lot, too. I'm so glad I was told about the program. I really look forward to the food. More people should know about it."

Learn more about Meals on Wheels here


Christmas Tree Safety December 9, 2016

Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

Keep your holiday trees well-watered.  Dry and neglected trees can easily catch fire from a short in electrical lights or lit candles, lighters and matches.

Before your tree burns your house down, be smart with these fire-safe tips:

  • Place the tree away from heat sources and exits.
  • Use only non-flammable decorations.
  •  Inspect lights for frayed wires or other defects before use.
  • Don't leave lights unattended and turn off holiday lights at night. Keep natural tree stands filled with water at all times and don't let your holiday tree dry out.
  • If the tree becomes dry, discard it.

 Find extra holiday, Christmas tree and fire safety information, videos, and graphics on the U.S. Fire Administration Holiday Safety page.


Inclement Weather Tips for the Elderly November 28, 2016

With the likelihood of severe rain and the possibility of isolated tornadoes this week, the elderly and disabled can be particularly vulnerable to the inclement weather and its effects. It is important for both senior citizens and their caregivers to keep an eye on the weather and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

Here are some tips to ensure your safety this week:

  • Complete an individual assessment of daily needs (special medical equipment, particular foods and liquids to meet dietary restrictions, step-by-step instructions for other caregivers, communications equipment such as adaptive hearing and sight devices, minimum two-week supply of medicine or prescriptions, mobility aids, service animals and related feeding).
  • Make medical arrangements. Create an emergency plan with with your regular service providers.
  • Keep abreast of community disaster plans by checking here regularly.
  • Reach out to family, friends or caregivers and explain to them any concerns you may have. Work as a team to prepare.
  • Keep emergency numbers, and your phone, nearby.
  • Contact your utility company about emergency procedures and make sure you know how and when to turn off water, gas and electrical switches or valves. Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order. 

Basic needs and supplies:

  • Water - one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation and 2-week supply for home) 
  • Food - it is a good idea to include foods that do not need cooking (canned, dried, etc.) (3-day supply for evacuation and 2-week supply for home) 
  • Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs (do not use candles) 
  • Battery-operated or hand-crank radio q First aid kit and manual q Medications (7-day supply) and medical items 
  • Multi-purpose tool (several tools that fold up into a pocketsized unit) 
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toilet paper, plastic garbage bags) q
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, deed/lease to home, birth certificates, insurance policies) 
  • Cell phone with an extra battery and charger(s) 
  • Family and friends' emergency contact information 
  • Cash and coins (ATMs may not be accessible) 
  • Emergency blanket 
  • Map(s) of the local area 
  • Whistle (to attract the attention of emergency personnel) 
  • One change of clothing 
  • Manual can opener 
  • Pet supplies (including food and vaccination records) 
  • Extra set of keys (car, house, etc.) 
  • Pack of cards to provide entertainment and pass the time

More exhaustive information can be found here.


Cold Weather Tips for the Elderly November 16, 2016

As winter approaches and temperatures begin to drop, the elderly will be particularly vulnerable and at risk for developing hypothermia, a deadly condition caused by a drop in body temperature. The best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay warm.

Here are some tips to ensure your safety this season:

  • Keep your home comfortably heated.
  • Wear several layers of loose clothing. Tight layers of clothing can keep your blood from flowing freely, which can lead to loss of body heat.
  • Wear a windproof and waterproof coat or jacket if you plan to be outdoors.
  • If your hands and feet are cold, put on a hat. This causes your body to send more warm blood to our hands and feet.
  • Use a scarf to cover your neck.
  • At night, use hot water bottles, heating pads and electric blankets to help keep you warm.

SPACE HEATER SAFETY TIPS:

  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Heaters must be monitored when in operation.
  • Plug heater directly into a wall receptacle. Never plug it into an extension cord.
  • Heaters need to be monitored daily. Those heaters missing guards, control knobs, feet, etc. must be taken out of service immediately and repaired by a competent person.
  • Do not use heaters in rooms that will not be continually occupied.
  • Keep doors and windows closed, including storm windows. This will help prevent freeze-ups.
  • Keep space heaters away from exit ways, walkways and paths of travel.
  • Do not use space heaters in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Do not use portable space heaters if small children are expected in the area.

Council on Aging of West Florida is accepting monetary contributions and donations of new heaters and blankets for the elderly. Please drop off your donations at the Council on Aging office located at 875 Royce Street in Pensacola between the hours of 8am and 5pm, or call (850) 432-1475 for more information.

Council on Aging Seeking Donations of Heaters and Blankets


Impact Stories: Frances Toler and Eleanor Blunt October 26, 2016

Frances Toler, 60, is bright-eyed and full of life though she has progressive Alzheimer's and has lost ability to communicate verbally. Her smile contagious and joyful laugh fills the room, especially when her senior companion, Eleanor Blunt, comes to visit with her. 

Frances and Eleanor have been paired through Council on Aging of West Florida's Senior Companion Program for just over two months. Though it's only been for a short time, Eleanor has seen an impact of her being there. 

"I've noticed she has become more comfortable with me," said Eleanor, "Although she cannot speak with a voice, she'll now come up to me and smile and I can tell she is taking a liking to my presence."

On a typical day, the pair "go out in the backyard and seat and eat meals together." This allows for Frances's husband of 40 years, Andy Toler, to receive some much needed respite and prepare sermons for his church.

"It's a very positive impact for myself and Frances," said Andy, "She doesn't have to be around me the whole time and she is able to socialize with other people."

Andy has also been able to receive direct assistance from Eleanor with her past experience working with clients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

"Ms. Eleanor has really helped me out with the diet part for Frances," said Andy, "I tend to think about what I need to eat and now I know what Frances needs and the right amounts to give her."

The two have worked seamlessly together to provide adequate care for Frances. 

"I've always been surrounded by seniors and for some reason or the other," said Eleanor, "I understand her condition. I worked with previous clients with Alzheimer's. I've actually been able to help Mr. Toler and explain to him some things going on with Frances."

Eleanor has become part of the family very quickly and is not only thankful for the opportunity, but also the chance to care for a senior and provide some free time for Andy.

"He does a beautiful job with her," said Eleanor, "I compliment him all the time about that. I couldn't be in a better setting and really do thank God for that."



Coping with Hearing Loss September 22, 2016

One of the most common health conditions affecting older and elderly adults is hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss. Not only is hearing loss problematic while trying to follow a doctor's advice and responding to warning sounds, it can also be an embarrassing and frustrating ailment that causes disruptions with conversations and relationships.

How do I know if I'm experiencing hearing loss?

If you have experienced some of the following situations below, you may be have some form of hearing loss:

  •  I often ask people to repeat what they say
  •  I have trouble hearing in groups
  • I think other people mumble
  • Having particular difficulties hearing certain sounds, like high or low voices - or even bugs and birds
  • I cannot hear someone speaking behind me
  • I often turn up the volume on the television or in the car
  • I have difficulty hearing on the phone
  • I dread going to crowded restaurants and parties because of the noise

Communication is essential to us as human beings because we are social animals. When something disrupts our communication, we may isolate ourselves in order to cope. Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, once said, "Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people."

Communication is a two way street, and both the listener and their communication partner need to take a more assertive role during conversations when someone has hearing loss. Below are some communication strategies to keep in mind when speaking with someone who is hard of hearing:

  • Try to determine the source of your difficulty - For example, does the speaker have a soft voice or are they speaking too fast? Ask the speaker to speak up or more slowly. Speakers as well as listeners need to cooperate to improve communications.
  • Polish your concentration skills and focus on the conversation, even if you miss a few words or phrases
  • Admit your hearing loss so people are more likely to look directly at you while speaking
  • Use your eyes to pick up visual cues on the speaker's face
  • Be clear about what you missed instead of frequently saying, "What?" This allows the speaker to know what he or she has to reiterate
  • Verify what you think you heard
  • Have your hearing tested to determine your specific problem 
  • Use hearing-assistive technology such as hearing aids, which are more effective and less visible than ever



Impact Stories: Nellie Speights and Johnnie Holloway August 30, 2016

Nellie Speights has hair as white as snow and an even brighter personality at her age of 78. Her son and primary caregiver, Dr. Isaac Williams, is extremely thankful for the Senior Companion Program at Council on Aging of West Florida. When Ms. Nellie's health started to decline in Georgia with progressions in dementia, Dr. Williams sought to have his mother move to Pensacola, FL to live with him and his wife. Dr. Williams, a pastor, and his wife both working full time quickly realized they needed assistance and someone to help Ms. Nellie with everyday tasks.

"I think the program is very advantageous for my mother in that if she's home alone,"said Dr. Williams, "her mind will wonder and that's not good for her. I would love for her to be able to stay in her own home alone as well, but the doctor said she can't do that. By my mother having a senior companion, it keeps her active and independent."

Johnnie Holloway, 75, very much enjoys being a senior companion. Ms. Nellie has also taken quite the liking to Ms. Johnnie. "Both me and Ms. Johnnie are in the same boat,"said Ms. Nellie, "We get along so good. She is a sister to me."

The two ladies spend most of their days together going to the grocery store, spending time at the Cobb center, and conversing on the back porch. "Ms. Johnnie and my mother can relate and understand each other," said Dr. Williams, "She takes her to the doctor, takes her to get her medicine, go to the Cobb Center. They can talk about women stuff where I can't relate to her in that area."

Ms. Nellie has also shown an improvement in health since being paired with Ms. Johnnie as her senior companion. "When we brought my mama down to Pensacola about a year and a half ago, she was in pretty bad shape," said Dr. Williams, "The doctor said she looks remarkably well now and I think that's because of the Senior Companion Program and Ms. Johnnie. My mama's medicine used to be all mixed up. Ms. Johnnie insures my mother takes her medicine right and by having someone to help her with this, that keeps my mother looking and feeling good."

The Senior Companion Program has been described as a true blessing for everyone involved in Ms. Nellie's life. "I like that she has someone here while my wife and I are both working full time. I don't have to worry about her leaving the stove on or leaving the door open. You couldn't ask for a better person for my mother than Ms. Johnnie. She is caring, considerate, waits on her head on toe, cook her breakfast...whatever she needs, she is there for my mama. It's a tremendous burden off of me knowing my mama is in a safe place with a safe companion who treats her just like a sister."

To learn more about the Senior Companion Program, give us a call at (850) 432-1475.


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Please help us provide seniors in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties with the programs and services they need to live healthy, safe and independent lives in their own familiar surroundings. These program and services, which include Meals on Wheels, adult day health care and caregiver support, enable seniors and their caregivers to face an uncertain future with the dignity they deserve.



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