105 Chauncy St. Suite 801, Boston, MA 02111 friend@fw4elders.org 617-482-1510

Friend of the Month July 2017!

Gloria has been a volunteer for a year!

Question: Why do you volunteer for the medical escort program?
Gloria: “It is something that I really look forward to doing… I like helping people in general. There will come a time in your life when you will need help. You will find yourself in the same situation as some of these people. In time it will return back to you. Then you will say, ‘It is a good thing I helped people.’  You won’t feel guilty because you have already done your service.”

Question: What have you learned from your experiences?
Gloria: “There are so many things you learn as you go with these different patients. Some of these people don’t have anybody, they live alone. I remember one woman with terrible arthritis in her hands. You wonder how she could button up her shirts or eat her food.

But these people, even though they are in tough positions, they are so happy. Life goes on. I wonder, would I be such a cheerful person if I was in the same position? I have learned that a person can be content even though they are in a difficult position. They have jokes too, they make you laugh!”

Question: What is your most memorable experience as a volunteer?
Gloria: “There is one I am going to remember for a long time.

I went to an appointment with a woman in Brighton, but we didn’t know that the transportation had dropped us off at the wrong address. We went office to office, but no one knew where her doctor was. Finally, a woman at the front desk said the doctor was actually at a different address! It was near us, but up a big steep hill. The woman couldn’t walk there – she used a cane – and it was getting too late to call the ride back, so I borrowed a wheelchair and pushed her. It was the summer time and it was hot! And the hill was steep! I was terrified of letting go. But we made jokes and laughed all the way. We were having a wonderful time. She was just in time for the appointment. Just in time! We had fun! That saved the day. That was a remarkable experience for me.”

Question: What are your favorite hobbies?
Gloria: “My favorite hobby I will tell you is traveling. I love traveling! Lord. do I love to travel! I’m going to Israel in the fall with my church. And I love my plants. And I love church! On Sunday I go to 3 or 4 different churches; from the Catholic Church to the Salvation Army to the Methodist Church. I like to spend Sunday in the house of God.”

Question: There are a few people I can think of whom you have formed friendships with after escorting them. Can you tell me more about the relationships you’ve formed?
Gloria: “I make friends with everyone I go on escorts with! They always want me to take them to their next appointment. It is a great experience and you make friends.”

A Volunteer’s Story

“I am currently a volunteer in the Friendly Visiting Program. I visit an elder who at face value does not seem lonely. Her daughter and grandchildren live upstairs in her duplex home and she lives with her husband. She has other family that comes to visit on holidays and she has friendly neighbors. However, she also has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and due to this condition she cannot leave the house alone. For whatever reasons, her family is too nervous, scared, or inconvenienced to take her out of the house with her oxygen tank. I will admit at first I was nervous too! But she is a fiercely independent lady and can handle it with ease.Since her loneliness/isolation stems from being homebound, we meet about every other week to go out and get breakfast. We go to IHOP and I get to hear her amazing stories such as when she first moved to Boston from Ireland, how she first met her husband, about her large family and which siblings decided to emigrate to the US or Canada. She often apologizes at the end of our meetings, saying,” You didn’t get a word in edgewise.”  I am a chatty person but with her all I want to do is listen. Often, her family members have heard these stories and may take them for granted, but for me they are new, interesting, and very engaging. We often stay at IHOP a full 2 hours taking advantage of the free flowing coffee.

It is nice to know that when I drop her back off at home she is not completely alone. But I also see the real difference our meetings make. There have been times when, due to her health issues, we have not seen one another for a month or two and we miss each other terribly. I feel very lucky to have a friend like her, and I think the feeling is mutual.”

– A FriendshipWorks Volunteer

Friend of the Month!

Leah and Joe have been matched for over two years!

Question: What are your favorite thing(s) to do together?
Leah: “We write together (I also helped Joe edit his second book of poetry), read, go to concerts, and just talk! I love hearing about Joe’s incredible 100 years of life from his childhood in Brooklyn, to his World War II service, to his participation in the desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement.”

Question: What is something each of you has learned from the other?
Leah: “I have learned so much from Joe! I have learned about life and have received a classical music education from a man for whom music is life. Joe says he has learned from me lessons about steadiness and persistence. He appreciates how I am fully present when we listen to music or write together.”

Question: Are there any future visits or activities you have planned that you are looking forward to?
Leah: “Really looking forward to Joe’s 100th birthday party in July and his second book of poetry being published!”

Tips for Working with Elders with Vision Loss

FriendshipWorks’ enduring mission is to end elder isolation and replace it with the warmth and comfort of caring and dedicated friends. In this vein, we are committed to addressing the myriad conditions that can precipitate an elder becoming socially isolated. While most of us have some visual changes as we age, for some elders this loss is life-altering and can lead to social isolation and loneliness. This is why FriendshipWorks has a special focus on addressing elder vision loss.

Vision loss can affect social interactions and safety, especially for elders living alone. While vision loss in elders is not all the same, it frequently affects mobility, reading, computer usage, cooking, safety, driving and other daily living skills. Here are ten tips from optometrist Dr. Cathy Stern, on how to provide assistance and support for someone experiencing vision loss:

  • When walking with someone with vision loss, offer your arm and have them hold your elbow so you will be a half-step ahead of them. This allows them to feel your movements and quickly adjust their gait or direction of movement in order to move forward safely.
  • If a home has stairs, place bright, contrasting tape on each stair edge or paint a stripe on the edges of wood stairs. This goes for stairs both inside and outside.
  • Avoid the use of throw rugs, entryway mats or floor clutter like shoes to minimize falls.
  • White bathtubs should have the middle third of the threshold painted a contrasting color to make getting in and out safer.
  • Control glare by providing cool white light centered over a task area, as too much light can be as much of a problem as too little light.
  • Label kitchen cabinet doors, drawers and countertop canisters with contrasting paper and a bold, sans-serif font to make identifying important food or cooking items easier.
  • Place light colored food such as white potatoes on a dark plate and place darker colored food such as green vegetables on a white place for higher contrast and easier identification.
  • Encourage use of a black felt tip pen and light yellow paper for writing reminders or notes.
  • Large-type playing cards or tactile versions of games will allow someone with vision loss to maintain social interaction and social contacts.
  • Always talk directly to the person with vision loss and do not talk around them by directing questions to a nearby relative or friend. Also don’t shout if a person has no significant hearing loss.

In order to raise awareness about elder vision loss and share available resources, we have partnered with Boston’s low vision experts to offer a free half-day forum on June 8, 2017 (to learn more click here).

*FriendshipWorks serves adults 55+ who experience vision or hearing loss. Click here to learn more about our programs or to volunteer.

Dr. Cathy D. Stern specializes in Behavioral Optometry, Vision Therapy, Developmental Optometry and Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation. To learn more about her services click here.

Low Vision: Open Your Eyes to the Problem

How many ways do we make reference to sight?

“I see” means agreement or understanding

“I was blindsided by what happened” when something happens quickly and unexpectedly

“From my point of view” asserts an opinion based on experience

For as often as sight is used as a metaphor, it is something we take for granted

And now imagine: slowly, you lose the ability to see. Suddenly your home becomes an obstacle course. And because you cannot drive or find your way to the bus stop, your home also becomes a prison. You lose contact with your community because you can’t get around and you cannot even dial the phone. The simple pleasures of life become out of reach, whether it is watching your favorite television show or reading a book. Taking medications is like a game of roulette. Even eating is an onerous task.

The risk of falls and fractures increases. There is a certainty of depression and anxiety as a full-fledged mental health issue. Social isolation looms. Your glasses don’t work anymore.  And it seems there are really few options. 

This scenario affects almost 10 million elders today. This number will increase substantially by 2030. And most of us are not aware of the risk our elder neighbors face.  

But there are life-saving and life-enhancing options.

On June 8, 2017, FriendshipWorks is co-presenting “Low Vision: Will You Know It When You See It”, a half-day forum for direct care providers on low vision in elders. The forum is initiated and coordinated by FriendshipWorks, in collaboration with The New England College of Optometry and The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, The Massachusetts Association of the Blind and Visually-impaired, and Mass Eye and Ear Hospital.  Awareness and practical interventions will be offered by experts so the professionals who know elders best can identify low vision and encourage the best options to enhance elders’ well-being and quality of life. FriendshipWorks has specially produced a resource guide to connect elders with a range of low vision services that will be distributed at the forum.

Please join us for this enlightening and encouraging forum on low vision in elders!  You can register at http://www.fw4elders.org/low-vision-forum/