Senior Citizens

Giving the gift of gab – Volunteers sought to visit with seniors

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   More senior citizens are living independently in their homes, thanks to physical modifications to their houses and home-delivered meals. But some of those seniors are missing a vital component to a happy life – human contact. They may go days without engaging in a conversation, said Lisa Myers, director of social services at the Wood County Committee on Aging. “We’ve noticed a need from our seniors who are homebound or on meal deliveries,” Myers said. Many seniors really enjoy the brief contact with those delivering meals. “But sometimes that’s just not enough.” So efforts are underway to create a volunteer “Friendly Visitor” program for senior citizens in Wood County. The goal of the program is to reduce loneliness and isolation in older adults. Social isolation has been shown to increase rates of depression and mortality, Myers said. “People need that social interaction, or it can lead to a decline in their mental and physical health,” she said. The role of the volunteers is simple – just talk and listen. They are not there to cook or clean. Just engage in conversation. Volunteers will be asked to visit their senior’s home at least one hour a week, to just sit and chit-chat. “We’re just looking to connect people,” Myers said. “We’re hoping these are lasting friendships.” Senior citizens can qualify for the visits if they live alone, receive the home-delivered meals, if they can’t drive to one of the county’s senior centers, or if they are on the Wood County Adult Protective Services client list. So far, four seniors have signed up. So now, the Friendly Visitors program needs volunteers to sign up. The program will be available throughout Wood County, so volunteers and seniors will be matched by geography. Volunteers will go through a brief training with Myers, and will be asked to submit a quarterly report on their time with their senior. The volunteers will also be asked to be the “eyes and ears,” and observe any problems the senior might be having. “This should be a fulfilling volunteer job. Both people would benefit,” Myers said. Requirements for Friendly Visitor volunteers are: At least 21 years old. Able to commit for six months. Desire to work with older adults. Willingness to complete a background check. Wood County Adult Protective Services will pay for the background checks. The role of the volunteers will be: Communicate with the senior weekly. Spend a minimum of four hours per month, one-to-one with the senior. Provide emotional support. Build meaningful relationships….

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Do’s & don’ts of talking with loved ones with dementia

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The room was crowded with people desperately seeking ways to connect with loved ones who have dementia. The secret, the speaker said, is to stop expecting people with dementia to be who they used to be. Belinda Cytlak, a memory care consultant with Waugh Consulting, recently presented a program at Wood Haven Health Care on how to communicate with people who have dementia. When Cytlak asked how many in the audience know someone with dementia, every person raised a hand. “The family and friends have the toughest time,” she said. Cytlak spoke from experience, with her mother having dementia. “The hardest thing was to give up who my mom was,” she said. That doesn’t mean giving up on loved ones, but just changing expectations of them. It can be difficult for family members or friends to realize that today’s lunch is no longer a safe topic of conversation. “Anyone who has dementia has a problem with short-term memory,” Cytlak said. So the typical questions about lunch or recent visitors can make a person with dementia feel frustrated or like a failure, she said. “We put that person with dementia in a position where they know they don’t know – and they don’t want to fail,” Cytlak said. Above all, she said, don’t dispute facts with a person with dementia. “My mom used to say her big brother just came to visit. He’s been gone for eight years,” Cytlak said. But it was futile to say “No Mom, your brother wasn’t here.” Trying to use logic is not helpful. In fact, reasoning often causes a conversation to “spiral out of control.” If a loved one with dementia gets agitated or angry over their lack of short-term memory, Cytlak suggested trying to redirect them. Family and friends should come up with “conversation starters,” that can bring back pleasant memories. Cytlak recommended that loved ones try to “live in their world.” Her mom loved cooking, so talking about recipes was a topic enjoyable to both of them. Pay attention to the person’s senses, she advised. What do they like to smell – molasses cookies, certain flowers? What was a favorite food – candy, pie, beer? Did they prefer Frank Sinatra or Glenn Miller? Don’t forget the sense of touch that can bring back memories – with pets, or fabrics such as lace. And old photos or adult coloring books can prompt good conversations. “Give them a tool of how to get into their long-term memory,” Cytlak said. And avoid questions…


BGSU students help senior bridge the digital divide

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Kate Magsamen-Conrad was inspired to create the course to help teach seniors about technology before she arrived on the Bowling Green State University campus. During the period of transition before starting to teach at BGSU she was home in the New York area. Given that she teaches media and communication, she was called upon to help her grandmother learn about the laptop that she’d gotten a year before and hadn’t touched. “It was really terrible,” Magsamen-Conrad said of the experience. She realized all the knowledge and technical savvy that’s a given when learning to use these devices.  “I can’t even think about all the different steps to do things.” Technology is everywhere, from the supermarket to the parking lot, and there’s so much potential for it to benefit elders. “But it’s underutilized … because they haven’t grown up with it and don’t have the familiarity.” So in spring 2013 the class was launched in collaboration with the Wood County Committee on Aging and the Wood County District Public Library. The class links elders with students from small group communication and a research methods classes. Earlier this month the most recent class graduated. Magsamen-Conrad said the class gives students a way to contribute to the community and put their learning to use in a way that matters. “This is a real human being who is going to benefit from your preparation for this assignment. I don’t think there’s a better way to improve presentation and professional skills.” Each class has about 30 seniors in it, though one class had about 60, she said. Many take the class several times, building on their knowledge. Jo Zbiegien, of Fostoria, said it was the fourth time she’s taken the course. “I got so frustrated not being able to find anything I wanted to find on my cell,” she said. Then her husband got her an iPad, and all she could figure out to do was play a few games and get text messages. Now the course has expanded her abilities.  Zbiegien has learned about the capabilities of Google and how to use GPS. That’s important, she said, because she drives a lot, and her phone is essential in case she ever needs help while on the road. She plans to take the class again to try to figure out how to transfer all her contacts from her Android phone to the iPad. Pam Ruffner said the course “was awesome because the students are caring and informational.” She said she got an iPad a few years ago…


County voters support child, elder protective services

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Voters responded to the increasing numbers of child abuse and neglect in Wood County by passing the 1.3-mill renewal levy for Human Services on Tuesday. The Wood County Human Services levy passed with nearly 68 percent of the votes (19,126 to 9,151.) That wide margin of approval was welcome news to Sandi Carsey, administrator of Wood County Children’s Services. “I think that people understand that child protection and protection of the elderly is very important,” Carsey said. “Wood County has always been very supportive,” she added. Since the levy was last passed 10 years ago, Wood County has seen six deaths of children under 3 years old due to abuse. Five suffered from head trauma, and one was smothered. There are no plans to use the levy funding to add staff. A pressing need is to provide safe placements for children removed from their homes. “The number of kids in care has gone up drastically,” Carsey said. Wood County is on its way to setting a record for 2017, as the numbers of child abuse and neglect cases continue to grow. Since 1987, the Children’s Services and Adult Protective Services portions of the agency have relied on the 1.3 mills to support their work. The 10-year levy generates $3.7 million a year, and costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $36 a year. The funding provides for child abuse and neglect investigations and, if needed, placement of children in foster homes or other settings. The levy also supports elder services, such as home health aides, homemaker services and investigations of elder abuse and neglect. The needs of the protective services at both ends of the age spectrum continue to increase. Following are the statistics for 2016: 894 child abuse investigations. 260 elder abuse investigations. 212 of the child abuse investigations involved drugs. 142 of the investigations were child sexual abuse investigations. 59 children were placed in substitute care such as foster care or group homes. And the numbers look even worse for 2017. The reasons may be two-fold, Carsey said. In recent years, the opiate crisis has led to more cases, and there has been a real push for the public to report abuse and neglect concerns. “Last year in September, we had 35 children in foster care. This year we have 50,” Carsey said, adding that her office is currently trying to recruit more foster families. Meanwhile, the number of elder abuse and neglect cases is expected to pass 300 this year, she added. “We…


Wood Haven off to see the wizard…and rest of cast from Oz

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The yellow brick road leading into Wood Haven’s dining room was the first indication that something was different on Wednesday. Inside, the staff had taken on the roles of Dorothy, Aunt Em, the Wizard of Oz, the Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, witches and even a flying monkey. The food followed suit, with the menu including Aunt Em’s famous fried chicken, Tin Man tater tots, Scarecrow stuffing, Flying Monkey mashed potatoes, Emerald City green beans, Yellow Brick Road corn – all topped off with Toto’s treats. “I tried to get all the characters in the meal,” said Sue Smith, dining services manager at Wood Haven Health Care. The Wizard of Oz celebration on Wednesday was the brainchild of Smith. “I love to plan theme dinners. It’s kind of my big forte,” she said. Such events allow Smith to combine her two loves of art and food. “It’s my passion.” In preparation for the Oz event, the residents had a chance to revisit the 1939 movie classic. “I rented it at home this week, just to get psyched up,” Smith said. “I’m excited about it, can you tell? Food and people and events – that’s my passion,” she said. Smith served lunch in her cowardly lion costume, while Dorothy skipped around the dining room with her basket and Toto – who is actually Smith’s terrier named Maximus. “They are excited. I think they like it,” Smith said of the residents. “This is fun. There are lots of smiles,” said Christina Stearns, Wood Haven community relations director, who was dressed as a good witch. In one corner of the dining room, an evil witch’s feet stuck out from under a cardboard house. And songs from the movie played in the background. “It’s been a very good time,” said Hazel Rehm, a Wood Haven resident. “I think everyone’s enjoying it, and the costumes are great.” As residents dined on their Wizard of Oz meal, Amanda Smith as Dorothy entertained by singing “Over the Rainbow.” Desserts completed the meal – some in the shape of Toto. Smith had to purchase a dog cookie cutter for the occasion. “I definitely get into this,” she said. So did much of the Wood Haven staff, with nurses, aides, therapists, administration and maintenance workers dressing their parts. The Tin Man, one of the maintenance men, was not only missing a heart, but also any food since he was unable to bend his arms. This was not Smith’s first theme lunch. Earlier this year, she organized a…


Seniors get “shelf meals” in case of bad winter weather

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Like squirrels putting away nuts for the winter, food is being boxed for seniors throughout Wood County. About 850 “shelf meals” were packed up recently at the Wood County Senior Center. The boxes will be delivered to the seniors who receive home delivered meals from the Wood County Committee on Aging. The goal is to make sure the seniors have food available in case inclement weather makes it impossible for the home delivered meals to make it to them. “If those individuals can’t get out of their house, and we can’t get to them because of the weather,” explained Angie Bradford, director of food services at the senior center. “It’s those extra two meals if we can’t get to them.” The Wood County Committee on Aging used to hand out pre-packed shelf meals, but found the quality lacking. Some of the food was not intended for long-term storage, Bradford said. Such was the case with canned pears one year. “They all exploded in my storeroom,” she said. So now the volunteers pack the boxes themselves. Bradford enlisted the help of people served by Wood County Developmental Disabilities to pack up the boxes. One can of beef stew, two peanut butter packets, powdered milk, corn, green beans, peaches and more. “It’s been a great partnership,” Bradford said. Those packing the boxes enjoy the work, she said. “Phyllis was asking about it in August.” As she packed cans in the boxes, Phyllis Layman explained her motivation. “I like helping people.” Tricia Romero agreed. “We want to be able to give back to the community.”


Levy renewal to protect against child, elder abuse

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the numbers of child and elder abuse grow in Wood County, so does the need for county residents to support the levy renewal that provides funding to protect those vulnerable populations. On Tuesday, the Wood County Commissioners signed a resolution putting the 1.3-mill child and adult protective services levy renewal on the November ballot. The millage, to be collected for 10 years, will raise an estimated $3.7 million annually. The levy renewal effort comes at a time when the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services is seeing record numbers of child abuse investigations. It’s expected the county will investigate at least as many cases as last year – when the numbers jumped 25 percent to 894. “We anticipate having about as many as 2016, which set the all time record. Maybe a little higher,” said Dave Wigent, director of the county Job and Family Services. In addition to the increasing number, the county is also seeing an increase in the severity of the abuse cases – requiring that more children be placed in foster care. The overall increased cost of Children’s Services last year was about $500,000, Wigent said. So losing the levy funds that the county has relied on since 1987 would cripple the ability to provide child and adult protective services, he added. “It would be catastrophic for our child welfare and adult protective services,” Wigent said. The levy revenue makes up 90 percent of the adult protective services budget, he said. And loss of the levy would mean reductions in Children’s Services staff. “That would be at a time we are seeing record cases,” he said. Wigent stressed that the levy is not new money being requested of taxpayers. “It’s not a new tax,” he said. He also reminded that over the 30 years of the levy, there have been six times when the county has decided to not collect the full amount since it has not been needed. “We only take the money we need,” Wigent said. Wood County Job and Family Services may be the only department in the state to do that, he added. During the last 10-year period, there have been two years when the levy millage was not collected at all, and two other years when just half of the millage was collected. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said earlier this year that the commissioners talked briefly about reducing the millage going on the ballot. But there were several concerns. “We try not to confuse voters,”…