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Good Advice For Golden Years

Advance-News - 9/17/2017

The north country's more than 56,000 elderly residents lead varied lives, each with their own struggles and triumphs - but many face common hurdles in calling Northern New York home.

Over the last three weeks we have heard from a range of voices across four counties, many of whom have insight and advice for making the most of one's golden years here.

*It's important to socialize.

"It's about fellowship ... People enjoy getting together," said Stanley J. Holland, president of the Lorraine senior citizens group. "Socialization, especially for seniors, is extremely important."

"We really enjoy connecting with young people... for a while we hosted dinners for young, single people in our church," Nancy Carlson, 70, said. "I think having young friends keeps us young and motivated."

* Make good primary and preventive care a priority.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than half of Americans over the age of 65 are up-to-date with their core preventive health care, even while receiving regular checkups.

"There is no such thing as a "geriatrician" in St. Lawrence County. There are primary care providers ... many of whom are very knowledgeable about issues of the elderly and manage medical problems in this population as a part of their everyday practice," Dr. Gary R. Berk, chair of family practice at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, said in an email.

One major factor in keeping up with health care is being properly covered. Picking the Medicare plan that meets their needs but also fits within their budget is among the most confusing financial decisions faced by seniors.

County Offices for the Aging, and organizations with health care enrollment navigation services like ACR Health, can assist seniors in finding their best coverage option.

* Start saving early.

According to 83-year-old Jane Jenkins, financial preparation does not happen overnight.

"This is not something you can plan simply two years in advance; it takes many years of saving and being frugal," the former Jefferson County treasurer said.

For example, Mrs. Jenkins suggests people make the decision between selling their home and relocating to an apartment, or keeping and maintaining their home, which could be costly.

When looking into a nursing home, Vice President of Long-Term Care at Samaritan's Summit Village, Barbara Morrow, said the first concern for most families is the price. Cost can be a real barrier, which is why she recommends planning well in advance.

* Make a plan for the final years; tragedy can strike at any time.

"The biggest thing is to talk about it. It's not always a comfortable conversation, which is why it's important to talk about it before something happens," Ms. Morrow said. "Get a financial plan when you're not under stress, not after."

She also believes in designated health care proxies, in filling out Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatments, and getting one's wishes down on paper, even if it doesn't feel pressing.

Dr. Berk recommended designating someone to have the legal right to make decisions on the aging person's behalf.

"The job of a health care proxy is to put themselves in the shoes of the sick person and try to make the decision the sick person would if they were of full mind," he explained.

"The more planning you do before you're in crisis the better," said Andrea M. Montgomery, St. Lawrence County's Office for the Aging director. "A lot of times, people don't think about end-of-life care until a catastrophe has happened and someone's in the hospital. Then it's difficult because you're already dealing with your loved one being ill."

Besides advanced care planning, choosing a power of attorney, having a will in place and pre-planning your funeral are other tasks that can be handled before a crisis hits, Mrs. Montgomery said.

Keeping insurance policies, wills and other paperwork in an organized file is also important.

* Remember you're not alone.

From friends and family to county services and nonprofits, reaching out to get needed assistance is key to maintaining quality of life - and there is no shame in getting help.

Services like the Offices of the Aging, the Salvation Army, the Volunteer Transportation Center and many more are there to help.

The Watertown Salvation Army typically serves 80 to as many as 200 people, including senior citizens, daily, Maj. Dennis J. Smullen said, although the dining room can only accommodate 25 people.

"It is a blessing for the people involved," he said. "Everything goes to use."

The Jefferson County Office for the Aging also fields finance-related questions from senior citizens, including questions about health insurance, food stamps and financial assistance to help pay for heating.

Sheila M. Kehoe, the New York Connects coordinator for the Jefferson County Office for the Aging, said health insurance assistance is one of the most requested services at the office.

"All the letters and numbers - it's confusing," Mrs. Kehoe said. "(Health insurance counseling) is probably one of the biggest programs, (along with) our home-delivered meals."


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