Senior seminar touts smart life decisions

By Josette Keelor

At a Thursday morning free seminar in Woodstock, representatives from area organizations stressed how smart life choices benefit everyone involved.

Organized by the staff at Dutch Haven Assisted Living in Maurertown and a committee of other community members, the program “Senior Choices: Are You Ready for Your Future?” at the Woodstock Moose Lodge featured presentations on signs and symptoms of dementia, legal and financial planning and the basics of Medicare and Medicaid.

The goal, said committee chair and Dutch Haven Director of Marketing Linda Kurtz, was to provide the community with educational resources.

“That’s the first time we’ve done one like that, but it was incredibly well-received,” Kurtz said after the event.

Depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans age 65 and older, said Julie Alexander, regional director of business development for Valley Health’s Behavioral Health Services, and it can worsen from ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s, stroke, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“There has been a stigma in the past about getting help for depression and other mental health conditions, and I’d like to really advocate for reducing that,” she said. “Getting treatment for your mental health is no different than, you know, taking insulin for your diabetes.”

Alzheimer’s disease is also scary, said Nancy Niswander, geriatric care manager at Golden Pond Elder Care Services.

“I know it scares me because it runs in my family,” she said.

When she learned of her father’s diagnosis, “I had not a clue what to do, but if I had known some of the signs ahead of time, I might have been able to intervene a little earlier and maybe brought him a better quality of life.”

There are 10 signs to look for, she said, including disruptions in a victim’s daily life, trouble with problem solving and difficulty performing familiar tasks.

Her father-in-law’s lobster bisque was “the best I ever had in my life.” But one day when she brought him the ingredients, “he just stood there looking at me.”

“He said, ‘I don’t remember how to do it,'” she said. “Red flag.”

Other signs are confusion of time and place; trouble with visual or special images; problems with words, speaking and writing; misplacing and losing things; decreased or poor judgment; withdrawal from social activities or work; and changes in mood and personality.

And it’s not just for the aged, she said, earning gasps when she spoke of a 29-year-old who developed the disease.

“It affects all different strata and ages of life,” she said.

Discussing the ins and outs of wills, power of attorney and living wills, attorney Douglas C. Arthur recommended a bucket provision for items not named in a will, and a list provision for items added after drafting a will.

“If you choose not to make a will, the state of Virginia will make one for you,” Arthur said. “That’s not a one-size-fits all situation. So it’s very significant that you do make a will to determine exactly where you want your property to go.

“You also want to establish an executor … to carry out your wishes,” he said.

Ricky Miller and Becky Mauck, of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, spoke on Project Lifesaver, which outfits individuals with water-resistant wristband or ankle transmitter devices and a personalized frequency to help law enforcement find missing persons, including children.

Recalling a former Basye resident who wandered off, Mauck said Project Lifesaver could have made the search easier and quicker.

“What people with Alzheimer’s will tend to do is walk,” she said. The Basye resident walked with a slow shuffle, “and he did that for 7 miles.”

A monthly fee of $20 covers batteries and maintenance on bands, said Miller, who has had “a 100 percent success rate.”

Other presenters included Sara Broughton of Integrated Care & Behavioral Health, who discussed Medicare and Medicaid, and At Home Bistro owner and Executive Chef Kiesha Sellers, who offered samples of healthy foods. Buddy Fauber of EOK Entertainment provided music.

Dutch Haven has organized shorter programs in the past, and Kurtz said the program “Preparing for the Road Ahead,” for the loved ones of dementia patients, is in its third year and will take place again on the morning of Nov. 3 at the Valley Health Conference Center in Winchester.

Thursday’s “power-packed” program including various healthcare vendors was a success, and she said she plans to offer more in the future.

“They actually asked for the survey forms to fill them out,” she said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com