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Consider an act of kindness: Send a letter to an elderly person

Those with elderly loved ones know that the process of aging can have an emotional and mental impact on someone’s life, in addition to potential physical challenges. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) shares that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older report feeling lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are now considered to be socially isolated. One way younger people can help the aging population to overcome these feelings is by sending them a personalized letter through the organization Love For Our Elders.

Founded in 2013 by Yale University student Jacob Cramer, Love For Our Elders was inspired by his endless love for his grandparents. Cramer recalls his wonderful memories of his grandparents, and when his grandfather passed he began volunteering at a local seniors living community to honor him. Some of the community residents would share with Cramer that he was their only visitor.

Inspired to do more to support the elderly community, he started writing handwritten letters of love to his new senior friends. Since then, he’s been on a mission to alleviate a growing loneliness epidemic, and has inspired others to join in his efforts to deliver letters to the elderly. To date, he has worked with over 50,000 volunteers across 70 countries to spread his mission and “fight loneliness with love.”

Cramer’s mission has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic as many elderly people have faced increased isolation and loneliness. While physical isolation has been an important element of public health and safety, he says that the community must remember that elders deserve to continue to feel supported. Now more than ever, Love For Our Elders is in need of additional volunteers who are willing and able to craft handwritten letters. (Emailed and typed letters are not accepted.)

To participate in this initiative, volunteers must write their letters in large, legible print, exclude the date and avoid directly referencing religion, COVID-19, isolation or quarantine. The letters should also embrace creativity, be kind and thoughtful and be sealed within an envelope. Those sending more than one letter should leave their envelopes unsealed and unstamped within a larger envelope or box. The organization will be responsible for sorting and bundling letters with others to mail to senior community partners. All letters should be mailed to:

Love For Our Elders
P.O. Box 24248
Cleveland, OH 44124, USA

Moving forward, Love For Our Elders has begun to consider what the organization’s work will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Therefore, the organization is hoping to build a diverse board of passionate individuals who will share the initiative’s work and convene at least once a year via Zoom. This meeting will be used to reflect on the year’s work and consider possible changes to public branding, website and organizational status. The deadline to apply to join this board is April 15, 2021. Questions can be sent to Jacob Cramer, Executive Director, at jacob@loveforourelders.org.

Send a Love For Our Elders letter today!

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April is World Autism Month

According to a 2016 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among 11 surveillance sites was 1 in 54 among 8-year-old children. The report also found ASD diagnoses in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. As the identification of ASD becomes more common across the world, the month of April has become a designated observance for World Autism Month. 

The autism advocacy organization founded in 2005, Autism Speaks, established World Autism Month to focus on sharing stories and providing opportunities to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, fostering worldwide support. The month begins with United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and continues to emphasize the power to foster kindness within communities.

The Light It Up Blue initiative was created by Autism Speaks in 2010. Since that time, joined by the international autism community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world light blue on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day and in recognition of people with autism.

During the remainder of April, Autism Speaks encourages and empowers others to lead, learn, connect, care and give with kindness. To aid the organization in achieving this goal, people are asked to support funding research for individuals who benefit from better treatments of medical conditions that often accompany autism. They can also choose to participate in the #LearnWithKindness initiative for schools to celebrate and support acceptance, understanding and inclusion with daily acts of kindness.

The #LearnWithKindness campaign asks that each day, participants reveal a kindness or fundraising challenge on a fun, interactive school or work calendar. This initiative is designed to work in virtual, in-person or hybrid settings, where everyone will love completing daily activities and reaching fundraising milestones to earn Autism Speaks “kindness swag.” Register for the campaign here.

Although this campaign is a great way to observe World Autism Month, kindness is always in season. That is why the #LearnWithKindness campaign lasts throughout the year entirely, helping propel the world one step closer toward becoming a place where all people with autism can reach their full potential. Other ways people can support the autism community include:

  • Committing to take action toward a kinder world.
  • Sharing resources and stories on social media to increase understanding and acceptance.
  • Advocating to help advance policies that positively impact the autism community.
  • Starting a kindness campaign at school or work.

More about Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. The organization does this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.

Autism Speaks currently employs and engages autistic people, parents, relatives, professionals and representatives who have experience and knowledge of autism. The organization also advocates for research advancements that improve the quality of life for autistic people and empower appropriate and personalized treatments or therapies in the future. Autism Speaks wants all voices in the community to be heard throughout the work done to fulfill the organizational mission.

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When is it safe to hug an elderly loved one during COVID-19?

Over a year has passed since the coronavirus pandemic changed the way families are able to safely interact with their aging or elderly loved ones. Although the World Health Organization notes that all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, the specialized agency has stressed that older people face a significant risk of developing severe illness if they contract the disease. This is due to physiological changes that come with aging and potential underlying health conditions. Yet, as vaccinations increase and restrictions are lifted, many family members have questioned if and when they can safely hug their older loved ones.

In laying out basic COVID-19 recommendations based on age, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared that people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. Following this logic, the public agency says the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.

This is why the CDC has stressed that older adults and others at increased risk of severe illness should take steps to protect themselves from getting COVID-19. These steps include limiting in-person interactions with others as much as possible, especially when indoors. Other ways aging and elderly adults can protect themselves from contracting the virus are practicing social distancing, keeping six feet away from others, and disinfecting shared surfaces as much as possible.

Given these recommendations, many younger and middle-aged adults with older parents have made the difficult but necessary decision to go without seeing them for weeks — if not months — during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has had mental and emotional effects on both children and parents. Strides toward herd immunity have offered a glimpse of hope during these difficult times. However, cautious family members are still asking themselves, “When is it okay to see, and even hug, my elderly parents again?”

The short answer is after elderly loved ones have been fully vaccinated. New guidance from the CDC for vaccinated people states that they can visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk of contracting severe COVID-19 disease, without wearing masks or physically distancing. 

However, vaccinated people should still continue to practice prevention measures, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, when visiting people who have an increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who has an increased risk, as well as with unvaccinated people from multiple households. Those vaccinated should also continue to avoid medium-size and large in-person gatherings.

If both parents and children have been fully vaccinated, they can meet face-to-face again and hug without concern of COVID-19 infection. In general, Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pennsylvania, shared that two vaccinated people together is “going to be about as safe as you can get.” However, it is important to always take precautions, remember the risks, and look to credible agencies for updated information and recommendations moving forward.

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March Marks American Optometric Association ‘Save Your Vision Month’

Maintaining healthy vision is an important element of overall wellness. To highlight the importance of eye health and vision care, the American Optometric Association (AOA) has named March “Save Your Vision Month.” Founded by members of the AOA in 1927, this annual public health observance is meant to reiterate that everyone deserves comprehensive eye care and remind patients to reschedule any eye care exams, which may have been postponed due to COVID-19.

Related to the pandemic, this year’s AOA campaign theme, “Eye health is too important to leave up to an algorithm,” is meant to emphasize that healthy vision should not be left to an algorithm or chance. Further, the AOA stresses that doctors of optometry professionals should continue to adhere to federal, state and local health directives to ensure the uninterrupted, safe delivery of essential eye care. Equally important, the association shared that patients should not resort to subpar alternatives or forgo their eye care altogether.

“Safeguarding our patients is our top priority,” AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D., said. “If patients have not been seen by their doctor of optometry within the past year, our members are ready, willing and able to provide the level of eye care that you need, whether it’s time for a comprehensive eye exam, new contact lenses or eyeglasses, or an urgent care need.”

This “Save Your Vision Month,” the AOA wants to relay to the public that doctors of optometry are able to deliver essential eye care. This goes beyond a vision correction prescription and should be a critical component of patients’ preventive health regimen. Despite the availability of some products that mistakenly give the impression that eye health and vision needs are met, the AOA urges patients to seek out their primary eye health and vision care providers.

Tips to help preserve good vision and healthy eyes

  1. Wear high-quality sunglasses: Long-term exposure to UV radiation adds up over time and can increase a person’s risk of developing a cataract or macular degeneration. Long-term UV exposure can also cause tissue elevations on the surface of your eye called pinguecula and pterygium. A simple way to deter these forms of eye damage is to purchase and wear high-quality, protective sunglasses.
  2. Be aware of screen time: Being glued to a computer, smartphone, tablet or other hand-held devices can have a negative impact on vision. The AOA recommends that people observe the “20/20/20 rule.” This means that for every 20 minutes engaging with a digital screen, the user should then take a 20-second break and redirect their vision to something 20 feet away. According to the AOA, other methods of prevention or reduction of vision problems associated with digital eye strain involve taking steps to control lighting and glare on the device screen, establishing proper working distances and posture for screen viewing and assuring that even minor vision problems are properly corrected.
  3. Practice proper contacts care: Corneal ulcers have been known to result from patients sleeping in their contact lenses or wearing them for longer than the recommended periods of time. In severe cases, these ulcers can cause permanent eye damage. To avoid these circumstances, patients must practice optimal contact lens hygiene. Generally, contact lens wearers should wash their hands before handling lenses, minimize contact with water and saliva, use recommended contact lens solutions and follow manufacturer guidelines for replacing your contact lenses.

More about the American Optometric Association

The American Optometric Association was founded in 1898 and is the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health. The association represents more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometric professionals and optometry students. Today, the AOA is the acknowledged leader and recognized authority for eye and vision care in the world. The organization’s mission is to advocate for the profession and serve doctors of optometry in meeting the eye care needs of the public.

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3 Reasons to Hire a Caregiver to Assist with Home Care

Caregivers can help care for aging adults and seniors in a number of ways, from assistance with eating, sleeping or mobility to more comprehensive health and wellness needs. While family members often choose to become the caregiver of their loved one, hiring a thoroughly trained caregiver can make a vast difference in the quality of home care they receive. This is because professional caregivers are provided with continuous training on new and emerging technology, safety procedures and care specialties to ensure optimal safety and support. For those with aging loved ones, here are three additional reasons to consider hiring a home care caregiver.

1. Family Dynamics Change

Although many family members may be on the same page about the level of care an elderly loved one requires, others may not be. Furthermore, their feelings on their specific care needs and requirements may change. Family relationships often experience strain at one point or another, and pent up issues may resurface when caregiver questions arise and arguments ensue.

Affirming this notion, the Family Caregiver Alliance states, “Providing care for an aging or ill parent can bring out the best and the worst in sibling relationships. Ideally, the experience of caregiving is a time for siblings to come together and provide mutual support to one another. However, as a stressful transition, the pressure can also lead to strained connections and painful conflict.”

For these reasons, families find hiring a caregiver who is not a direct family member helpful. Without predetermined ideas or opinions, a caregiver can help families make unbiased decisions on what is truly best for the loved one in need of home care. Knowing that a loved one’s best interest is the priority can provide family members with security and peace of mind. This also assists in ensuring that the loved one’s state and current needs are frequently assessed by a home care professional with experience regarding the signs and symptoms associated with aging.

2. Family Caregiving Burnout

As family caregivers are not typically provided with the same training as a professional caregiver, they do not always know what to expect when caring for a loved one long term. Not all designated family caregivers have any medical experience at all, so knowing the ins and outs of providing home care may present an added challenge. Between learning how to best provide home care and actually engaging in care-related duties, these family members can become rapidly overwhelmed and burnt out.

Alternatively, a trained professional has the skills to provide quality care as needed. When a caregiver is employed to care for an individual, their job is to support the client in need of care. For many family members turned caregivers, they need to find a way to balance their existing jobs and responsibilities with the added duties that come with becoming a caregiver.

Caregivers are prepared with the knowledge and skills to cope with the many responsibilities and management associated with home care. Hiring a professional caregiver is a way to make sure that all home care needs are being met, without a family member becoming spread too thin subsequently neglecting elements of their existing lives.

3. Home Care is a Learned Skill

Just because an aging adult is a member of someone’s family does not mean a family member is best suited to become their caregiver. Home care services require a level of skill that is learned and must be acquired through proper education and instruction. Caregivers must have a basic knowledge of health care terms, medical conditions, prescription administration and emergency response procedures. Under certain circumstances, tough decisions need to be made, for which having experienced this home care learning curve is incredibly important.

One instance in which extensive home care knowledge is imperative arises when addressing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of memory loss requires a caregiver who is well aware of the challenges that are commonly associated with these conditions. Learning how to care for someone experiencing memory loss can keep a trained caregiver from being surprised by certain situations they may encounter. Professional caregivers have the ability to provide clients the support that is currently required while keeping family members up to date and planning for their future home care needs.

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