Hello Empowered Aging Family,
Happy November! I just can’t believe another holiday season is upon us. While it can be a cheerful, warm time for many, it can also be a time that brings about sadness, loneliness, and even depression. For older adults and adults with disabilities, especially those in congregate care settings, this has been a challenge that is largely overlooked. There is an assumption that those in long-term care aren’t lonely. But just because people are surrounded by peers and staff members doesn’t mean they are connecting and engaging. Couple that with being away from family, friends, and loved ones; the risks are quite alarming.
One that sticks out to me is research that shows prolonged isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, social isolation and loneliness have been estimated to shorten a person’s life by up to 15 years and are linked with poor cognitive function and a higher risk of dementia by 50%, and unlike mental health disorders, loneliness and social isolation aren’t typically diagnosed. As many of you may also know, facilities are regularly battling staffing crises, so the focus is making sure that residents’ basic needs are met, but that doesn’t always include emotional well-being.
Our direct care workers are vital to the livelihood of residents, and one way that Empowered Aging is working to address this is through our Healthcare Career Pathway (HCP) program – a partnership with Mount Diablo Adult Education and Opportunity Junction. If you’ve been following along, you may have heard us discuss this a lot recently, as it is a program that offers a meaningful track to sustainable employment for students with addressable barriers, which directly addresses the critical shortage of CNAs working in long-term care. We’re also proud to say that HCP has been recognized as part of the Master Plan for Aging Local Playbook and as a proven program for replication that will be expanding soon across California. And we’re also on the hunt for a new Director for the HCP program. So, if you are interested or know someone who is, you can find more details about the open position on our career portal.
As the holiday season approaches, I encourage you to get in touch with the older adults and adults with disabilities that you know. Whether it’s a phone call, an in-person visit, or even volunteering in your local community, let’s commit to letting this vulnerable population know they are not forgotten.
Before I sign off, I’m happy to share that we have raised $1,500 in memoriam of Debra Hanschar, our late Ombudsman Program Manager in Contra Costa. All proceeds have been set aside in an emergency fund and will be used to improve the quality of life and safety for long-term care residents, whether that be someone who needs pajamas and slippers, a fan for their room, reading materials, etc. We want to thank all the individuals and our fellow Ombudsman Programs for your generous contributions and for helping us carry on her legacy.
P.S. I mentioned volunteering above and we are always looking for people to join our Friendly Visiting team in Solano County. Please consider signing up. For more information, visit www.EmpoweredAging.org/Friendly-Visiting.
Power of Pets
Nothing quite compares to the unconditional love of pets and the joy of spending time with a loyal companion. But what many of us don’t think about is how much more a pet is giving us than just company. Numerous studies over the last 25+ years have shown that pets can also help improve mental and emotional health, help address social issues, decrease stress, and even improve heart health.
At Empowered Aging, our goal is always to enhance the quality of life for the older adults we serve, and over the last few months, we’ve been upping our game with the help of some four-legged friends that aren’t your average pets. They are robots. Thanks to a new program with our partners at the California Department of Aging State Long-Term Care Ombudsman office, we have distributed 12 robotic pets in Solano County and 50 in Alameda among three different types of facilities, skilled nursing, memory care, and assisted living, with the goal to combat loneliness and social isolation and to support those who are living with cognitive impairments.
“When the California Department of Aging State Long-Term Care Ombudsman reached out about participating in the Electronic Companion Pets Project, it was a resounding yes,” said Executive Director, Susannah Meyer. “Our ombudsmen have seen the negative impacts that COVID-19 has had on the residents in facilities firsthand. These pets are an amazing tool that can provide comfort, joy, and an engaging form of interaction.”
As recently highlighted by the AARP, feelings of “loneliness, abandonment, despair, and fear” have heightened among older adults and adults with disabilities in the long-term care setting. Psychological and neurological effects have taken an even greater toll as residents are “losing their will to live.”
“From the time the pet was brought in and unboxed, Ms. W had a smile on her face. She was very thankful and excited about her new pet!”
-Spring Roads Skilled Nursing Staff
“Yes, social distancing and visitation restrictions were important to reduce COVID transmission, but they also intensified the risks of social isolation and loneliness,” Meyer continued. “Those in licensed care facilities have lost friends and staff members to the pandemic. They have been through long periods of quarantine – no interaction with fellow residents or activities, and worst of all, they have been separated from loved ones with no idea of when they would reunite.”
The California Department of Aging has been working collaboratively to bridge the digital divide and address inclusion, equity, and social isolation for older Californians, people with disabilities, and caregivers. In mid-2021, the Electronic Companion Pets Project emerged as an idea for a person-centered approach to increase engagement and enhance meaningful interaction during the post-pandemic era. There was an overwhelming response from local programs that wanted to participate. Additional federal funding from the CARES Act paid for the pets, each one costing around $100.
“Our pets will be friends just like we are!”
–D.&R., Roommates at Vacaville Retirement
“What makes the pets so unique,” Meyer stated, “is their ability to respond to motion, touch, and sound, which allows them to react and interact. The cat meows, purrs, and then moves different body parts when petted. The dog barks when spoken to, wags its tail, nuzzles, and turns his head toward sound. The best part is there is no feeding, training, or having to deal with litter boxes. And thus far, all of the residents involved have reacted positively. It’s heartwarming to see. We will never stop working to bring our seniors and adults with disabilities peace of mind and hope. Especially now, as we continue to navigate this new period of COVID care.”
“It will be my new friend to read and color with! I’m still thinking about a royal name for it because it is my royal friend.”
–Ms. C., Spring Roads Skilled Nursing Facility
Pets in Action
Mrs. M – Paramount House (Assisted Living) – Memory Care
Mrs. M is a resident who suffers from dementia and typically sits quietly at the same table every day, rarely entertained by the things around her. When Mrs. M’s family heard about the robotic pet project, they immediately broke out a number of stories in regard to her love for animals, specifically dogs, and knew it would be a fantastic opportunity for her.
Boy, were they right! Upon receiving her pet, she showed signs of increased engagement and decided to name her new friend Ruby.
Ms. L – Paramount House (Assisted Living) – Memory Care
Ms. L is a longtime lover of cats and a resident who had a hard time adjusting to the facility and her many new medical diagnoses. During the pandemic, she had difficulty being away from her home, family, and cats. When Ms. L’s family heard about the opportunity to present her with a robotic pet, they immediately agreed, knowing she would benefit greatly.
When presented with her new pet, Ms. L sat the cat on her lap, petting it with care, and showed noticeable signs of happiness and contentment.
Mrs. A – Heartwood Skilled Nursing Facility
Mrs. A recently suffered the loss of her husband and was in need of a distraction to help keep her occupied and feeling positive. When her son, Romeo, was asked if she would be a good recipient for an electronic pet, he ecstatically stated, “Absolutely!” Romeo wanted to be there upon delivery, and when she received her new dog, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Mrs. A was delighted.
Save the Date
Don’t forget that GivingTuesday is coming up on November 29th! We’re proud to join in the movement that focuses on reimagining a world where equity and limitless generosity are the cornerstones of our society. At Empowered Aging, we fight for those things every day in support of the older adults and adults with disabilities we serve. Keep an eye out for more via our upcoming social media campaigns. We encourage you to share our GivingTuesday posts when you see them, and if you are able to join in, we would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. To kick-off the season of giving early, visit www.EmpoweredAging.org/GivingTuesday.
Meet Our New Director of Programs, James Holley
We hope you will join us in welcoming our new Director of Programs at Empowered Aging, James Holley. James will oversee the coordination and administration of all EA programs, ensuring that our activities align with our mission and goals. This role is vital to organizational growth and strengthened infrastructure as we continue to expand our reach across the Bay Area and beyond.
James is a San Francisco native who brings a wealth of experience from 20 years of nonprofit leadership to his new position. He is known for his expertise in program development, fundraising, recruitment, volunteer, training, and grant management. Throughout his career, James has acquired a close understanding of HIPAA and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and has been charged with building and maintaining government relations in his areas of service.
Before joining Empowered Aging, James was Clubhouse Director for Boys & Girls Clubs in San Francisco. His 18-year career on the team included opening two community Clubhouses, supervising a 2,000-acre residential summer camp, community engagement, and convening with local and national officials.
James also worked as a direct care counselor, manager, and trainer with Seneca Center in the East Bay. While at Seneca, James built an impressive network with county social workers and clinicians through daily engagement.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be on the Empowered Aging team. The work that this organization has done, and continues to do, is an inspiration. I have personal experience navigating care for dependent elders, and it’s both an honor and great opportunity to be able to serve my community in this capacity – ensuring that the safety and well-being of older adults is never compromised.”
In addition to his work here at Empowered Aging, James is also working towards his MBA at the University of Phoenix and is set to graduate early next year. We’re thrilled to have James as a part of our team and look forward to continued growth with him as part of our leadership team.
Congratulations to Our New Solano County Regional Supervisor, Christina Farnham!
Empowered Aging is proud to announce that our former Ombudsman Support Specialist, Christina Farnham, has been promoted to Regional Supervisor in Solano County. “Congratulations to Christina on this well-deserved promotion,” said Solano Ombudsman Program Manager, Daunje Sanders. “For over three years, she has been the voice for so many who did not have the ability to advocate for themselves. I look forward to seeing her flourish in this new role.”
Christina began her career serving the elderly over seven years ago, working at a local skilled nursing facility, but her passionate drive to help older adults was born out of a close relationship with her grandmother, who took care of Christina and her brother while they were growing up. Christina loved working at the skilled nursing facility but knew she had much more to offer. She soon transitioned into a job working alongside caregivers and Certified Nursing Assistants who provided home care.
This job gave her great insight into not only the needs of our seniors but the true challenges and ageism they face. Through this experience, she knew becoming an advocate was her next step, and that’s when she joined Empowered Aging. Since joining the team, Christina has proven to be an adept team member who excels at addressing issues negatively impacting the lives of long-term care residents through keen investigation and problem-solving skills.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity to step into the role of Regional Supervisor in Solano County. I look forward to the training and supervising, and being able to engage more, one-on-one, with our outstanding team of staff and volunteer field ombudsmen. I have been serving the elderly since 2015, so being able to advance my career by taking the next step in upholding the highest standards of care for our seniors is a dream come true. I want to extend my sincere thanks to our Executive Director, Susannah, and our Ombudsman Program Manager here in Solano, Daunje, for this honor.”
Everyone needs friends. But as we get older and face some of the struggles of ageism and social isolation, finding friends can be a little harder. That’s why, at Empowered Aging, we connect volunteers with older adults looking for a renewed sense of community. Our volunteers help these older adults in Solano County find companionship and connection while maintaining their independence. Ready to join us? To get involved today, visit us at https://EmpoweredAging.org/Friendly-Visiting/.
Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is almost here. This month we’re feeling extra thankful to all of our donors who have helped older adults and adults with disabilities in our communities feel safe, remembered, and confident in using their voices. We couldn’t do it without you.