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Advocacy is simple and effective

In March, the White House announced the president’s budget recommendations for the coming year, including significant funding reductions to services that help older adults age successfully.

Obviously, I am passionate about issues that affect older adults, so I was pleased to receive a lot of calls and emails from folks who were concerned and wanted to “fight back.” These words were quickly followed by, “But I don’t know how to do it.”

As I have written previously,for each of us to age successfully, all four columns of our lives (mind, body, spirit, community) have to be strong. Advocating for the things that are important to you is an essential tool for building and maintaining your community.

It is critical that your voice be heard. Your government leaders need to know what you consider important. Best of all, they want to know your thoughts on what they are doing and should be doing. Constituents really can sway the decisions of lawmakers!

Advocacy is simple and works in any situation, whether you are trying to share your thoughts with your local officials, state legislators or Congress. Be informed. Do a little bit of research. Read or listen to a variety of news sources so you can learn more about the issue at hand. Map out exactly what you want to express. Write down your thoughts. Keep your message simple, clear and succinct. Use personal experiences and statistics to support your opinion. For example: “Within a few years, almost half of the population in my community will be over the age of 60. This makes services for older adults critical. I have seen how important they are for my mom, and the difference it makes for all of us.

The serviceslike the ones the president is proposing to reduce have been proven in numerous studies to result in healthier, happier older adults, keeping them out of the hospital and nursing homes. For the cost of one day in the hospital, Senior Citizens Inc.’s Meals on Wheels program can feed an older adult in their home for an entire year. Therefore, now is the time to be making an investment in these programs, not a reduction!”

Get the contact information for those you want to reach. You can find email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses at www.legis.ga.gov for Georgia’s state legislators and www.congress.gov for both your U.S. senators and representatives. Or you can call Senior Citizens Inc. at 912-236-0363 and we’ll be happy to find the appropriate contact information for you. Make contact! Emailing or making a phone call is the fastest way to share your thoughts. While written correspondence is effective, it can take more than two weeks to make it through the screening system. If you make a phone call, keep in mind that you will probably be talking to an intern or assistant, so be clear about why you are contacting their boss. Have your notes in front of you for easy referral. Always be polite and remember what your mom said about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. Say thank you. It’s that whole honey-vinegar thing again!

Now that you know how easy it is, teach your friends. This is one of the situations in which numbers make a difference. Of course, I hope you’ll join me in advocating for all of us to age successfully. However, regardless of what you choose to champion, I make you this promise: just like writing this column has for me, advocating for the issues you care about gets easier each time you do it. You’ll also feel good for having done it and you will have helped your community. Oh, and thank you for reading!

Navigating the Unknown

My mom was a voracious reader for all of her 94-year life. She was known for never leaving home without a book in her purse and for always reading the last page first. When asked why she would do this, she would say it was because she wanted to make sure that she was going to like the ending. For her, the journey to a satisfactory ending was the interesting part. 

For almost 20 years, I have been working in the aging world and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every day. Not just because of the wonderful people I get to interact with, or the never-boring challenges, but for the same reason that Mom read the last page of a book first. I like helping people enjoy their journey through life to a satisfying conclusion.

Recently, I wrote of the four columns of life: mind, body, spirit, community – and how each one has to be strong for a life well lived. We all know that there are times when one or more of those columns will need support and it is about those times that I am probably most often asked. The questions are usually things like: What does this change mean for Mom? What are my options? Who can help? What is the path ahead?

These questions can frighten all of us. We want to make the best decisions but this territory is usually new for us, uncertain and - unfortunately - complicated.  Like most “industries,” the aging world is vast and full of jargon and insider secrets. What makes it even harder is that this world is facing its own awkward point of change as it morphs to meet the challenges of a rapidly aging society. There are a lot of options but the first crucial step is having solid information. If life needs four columns, then having the necessary information is what levels the ground for those columns to stand upon.

Fortunately, there are folks who specialize in helping at these moments…people who can look at the situation with you, provide an honest assessment and lay out the options and even a roadmap for the future. In the aging world, they are often called Care Navigators and Aging Life Care Specialists. Both provide information but at different levels of involvement.

A Care Navigator is a “subject matter expert” who can answer questions about services available in the community. Their knowledge is broad and their involvement can range from a single phone call to years of answering questions as they arise. You want to make sure that your Care Navigator is unbiased. For example, at SCI, our Navigators provide not only information but linkage to services, whether those services are provided by SCI or another entity in the community. This is critical because you want the best answers for you, not the organization.

Aging Life Care Specialists are certified experts who can be more intensive partners. They often begin with a visit in the home where they assess the current situation and together with everyone involved, develop a plan that fits the specific needs. They can provide a formal written plan of action and can even act as a guardian, which makes this an especially valuable service for someone with no family support or whose family lives far away. Because of the experience and trust required, it is important that the Aging Life Care Specialist be certified and bonded.

Regardless of how little or how much information is needed, it is the “unknown” that makes these times difficult. Using an expert such as a Care Navigator or Aging Life Care Specialist can help shore up the columns and make the next chapter more enjoyable. After all, like my mom, we want to make sure we’re going to enjoy our entire book.

For more information about how to find a Care Navigator or Aging Life Care Specialist in your community, call Senior Citizens Inc. at 912-236-0363 or toll-free at 866-579-2116 or visit www.seniorcitizensinc.org.

 

The Four Columns of Successful Aging

The Next Chapter - Improving the Lives of Seniors
Patti Lyons

Today, 12,432 people in the U.S. will celebrate their 60th birthday! This rate will continue for an estimated 10 years. It’s an amazing statistic and one that should give you pause whether you are among the lucky seniors starting the next chapter of your life or among the ones who will live in the wake that this phenomenon will cause - not only in our community but our country and world as well.

While 60 isn’t old by ANY means, it brings to the forefront the importance of aging successfully…not only personally but in our society’s imperative to ensure that reaching that age occurs for each one of us. From a community standpoint, the ramifications of a diminished tax base forced to deal with the strain of Medicare and Medicaid for a growing population that is living longer will change how and what we fund in the future. It will bring sharply into focus our core beliefs, and hopefully we’ll rise to the challenge and remember the wisdom that cautions that a society will be judged by how it cares for its young AND its old. The course we will take is beyond my expertise to foretell but it is one that I am without a doubt we will need to navigate.

I do know that each of us can play a role by making sure we do all we can to personally age successfully and prepare for the next chapter in our lives when we reach this landmark. Aging successfully is what this column is all about and has been the mission of Senior Citizens Inc. for almost 60 years. Most of the articles will deal with helping on a personal level and we’ll look at topics that help strengthen each of the columns that hold up the framework of a successful life. At times, we’ll also look at larger changes that will inevitably occur as we struggle as a nation to best define society’s role in successful aging.

So what do I mean when I write about the “columns of life”? There are four areas, or columns, that are essential to achieving a life well lived.  Each of these columns has to be strong in order for us to live life fully and successfully. 

Mind:  A sharp, keen mind is critical for successful aging.Keeping ourselves intellectually engaged and challenged is just one of the tools needed to ward off not only the natural effects of growing older but diseases like Alzheimer's that rob so many of us of our mental acuity against our will.

Body: The physical component of our life is also an essential column. Time has a way of eroding our body but we can keep it strong and healthy, and it may be one of the easiest things to control.

Spirit: A heart that is open and nourished by goodness is our third column. It is scientifically proven that those that find the positive in situations and people around them live longer.

Community: You know the phrase “it takes a village”? Well, it does. Each of us needs to have a village around us. We need to have relationships that lift and nurture us and give us the community we all crave. Keeping our community active in our lives is the fourth column in our ability to age well.

In the months to come, we’ll talk more about each of the columns and what you can do to shore them up. Until then, take a survey of your own columns. Do one or two of them need attention today? Take the time now to look at ways you can strengthen them. It doesn’t have to be a grand or difficult endeavor. Call a friend. Take a walk. Breathe deeply. Complete a crossword puzzle.  After all, regardless of our current age or where we are in the book of life, we all want to age successfully and be ready for each new chapter.

For the past 17 years, Patti Lyons has been the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years. She serves on the Meals on Wheels America Board and is a governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.