Hospice as a Positive Alternative

      Death is usually an uncomfortable topic to think about, let alone plan. Fortunately there are services that can help you receive the most comfortable care possible personalized to your wishes. If you were to find out you only had six months to live, would you prefer taking aggressive drugs hoping for a small chance to live? It may unfortunately be accepted those last few days would be drawn out in the hospital undergoing even more intensive treatments. I know, it’s not necessary to go too far into that scenario. Another option many older folks have chosen is hospice. Unlike a common misconception, hospice is not necessarily a place, but rather a form of care. As laid out by Chang’s article “Development of Hospice and Palliative Care in the United States”, hospice is probably the most sensitive approach, allowing many patients to be taken care of at home, as comfortably as possible3.

      Hospitals focus on curative care, meaning fighting against the cause of sickness in order to come closer toward a cure or remission. The only problem with this approach is that some people may not have a probable cure for their illness. Hospices on the other hand, focus on reducing pain during the inevitable final stage of life1. This is called palliative care, when lessening the pain and preserving independence are the redirected goals toward enjoying your last experiences. This is an alternative to physician care, initially most popular among cancer patients, but now expanding across all different conditions2. As hospice care grows popularity and availability, it is becoming better known for its holistic approach. There are many services available including medical treatment, home health aide visits, spiritual and nutrition counseling, and bereavement support for the family. It not only focuses on the body, but the mind and spirit as well3.

      Unfortunately hospice has a negative connotation for those who are less familiar to the alternative option.The American Hospice website addresses some of these viewpoints. Some people think that hospice is only for the individuals themselves who are dying2. In fact, it is an inclusive healing practice for the loved one’s family. Not only is illness more bearable to manage in the company of friends and family, but friends and family supporting one another as well. There are special grievance support services as part of the care plan 2. Some people may get the impression that hospice is expensive. Actually since this form of care was mainly supported by volunteers in the beginning, many have maintained their non-profit systems. In fact, almost two thirds of hospices are non-profit 2. Additionally, Medicare plans can cover 95% of your fees, and many hospices have been known to decline the 5% copayment 3. Perhaps the philosophy and morale of this service may be a contributing factor to recipient satisfaction.

      Now I am keeping in mind that many of you are still healthy, active, and not so concerned about death at the moment. In fact there will be a few readers who are healthier now in their older years than they have been most of there life! The importance here is considering ahead of time what kind of care you wish to receive should you not be able to make the decision later. With the misconceptions pertaining to hospice, it is possible your family is unaware of this option and It is a never too early to start this dialogue with your family. You would not only be contributing your own wishes, but you can find other family member’s preferences for themselves. I really recommend that you explore the citations I have included.

1 Connor, S. (2009). Development of Hospice and Palliative Care in the United States. In H. Cox (Ed.), Annual Editions: Aging (pp. 86-90). Indiana State University: McGraw Hill.
2 Naierman, N. (2001). Debunking the Myths of Hospice. Retrieved from http://www.americanhospice.org/articles-mainmenu-8/about-hospice-mainmenu-7/36-debunking-the-myths-of-hospice
3 Naierman, N. (2001). The medicare hospice benefit: A good fit with managed care. Retrieved from http://www.americanhospice.org/articles-mainmenu-8/about-hospice-mainmenu-7/42-the-medicare-hospice-benefit-a-good-fit-with-managed-care

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The Positive Aspects of Aging

      It arguably seems that within Psychology, we are focusing upon phenomenon that is negative, or otherwise out of the ordinary. You may think of therapy for example, or mental illness…even aging, as subjects which cause concern. It is so focused on identifying people’s downfalls and how to avoid such conditions. In fact, many psychologists would say that there is an innate perspective within us to seek positive attributes within ourselves as well. “Positive Psychology” is a fairly recent term to this concept which was only recently coined in 1998. The APA Division 17 Section on Positive Psychology briefly define the field as “the study of human strengths and wellbeing”. To place this into perspective, you can imagine how there are factors that may cause us to age over time, but there are also powers within ourselves to help defeat the biological clock both mentally and physically.

      Dr. Glenn Ostir, a researcher within the positive psychology field tells BBC News “I believe that there is a connection between mind and body–and that our thoughts and attitudes/emotions affect physical functioning, and over all health, whether through direct mechanisms, such as immune fuction, or indirect mechanisms such as support networks”. This statement may resonate with you personally, maybe as you have found yourself catching illnesses in the most stressful and worst timings throughout your life, as your personal life had affected your immune system. You may have also found that your work across different contexts may have been affected by disputes with friends, or generally having a lack of social connections. As positive psychologists would say, the very opposite of these statements can help you for the best. For example, if you are exercising and becoming more involved in your community, you will find your mental and physical wellbeing to improve exceptionally. Perhaps our answer is to not only focus on factors to avoid, but to seek the most positive actions we can for ourselves.

      Speaking of a predisposition toward negative thoughts, we tend to only think about aging in terms of losses that may occur. You think loss of hair, loss of memory, loss of independence. What is less likely to be imagined first would be strengths such as “wisdom”, satisfaction with having raised a family, and long term goals that were achieved. Unfortunately, it is the losses which are most concrete and obvious to the naked eye. Along with that, they are more easily tested within research. Wisdom on the other hand is an example of an abstract attainment through aging. Wisdom is objectively definied as “rich factual and procedural knowledge, lifespan contextualism, relativism of values and life priorities, and recognition and management of uncertainty,” by Australian Psychologist. As you can see, this is a very situation sensitive, subjective, and individual experience that would be very difficult to test objectively. However, it is partially through wisdom that many older people learn to be more resilient to stress according to Australian Psychologist. Unfortunately, it may be difficult for older folks to look into this as those around them are focusing upon their losses.

      With this insight, where can we go from here? It is apparent that our mind and body seem to be interconnected more than we think. If we can focus on the gains that we achieve while aging, we can upkeep our emotional stamina, and support networks as well. Meanwhile, these positive effects we are fulfilling onto ourselves can ultimately help immune system functioning and ward against physical illnesses. We need to be proactive about our health and not assume that aging is a natural phenomenon that we shall fall victim to. I encourage you to read my other blog entries if you have not already, on ways to get started on this journey toward self improvement.

How You Can Benefit from Volunteering

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    Did you know that the number of seniors who are volunteering is rapidly increasing? Believe it or not, based on US Census, the number of volunteers 65 and older are predicted to increase my 50% over the next thirteen years. This is posted in a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service entitled. Furthermore, this statistic is predicted to rise even higher as the youngest baby boomers will not reach age 65 until the year 2029. I’m sure many of you may be skeptical as to the benefits in volunteering. “I’ve worked forty-plus years of my life already, what more do you expect!” some may exclaim. Well actually, a study assessing life satisfaction in older adults found that those who volunteer strongly correlated with this important factor, and showed significantly higher life satisfaction rates than those who continued to work for pay. Now this is neither a suggestion to “quit your day job” nor is it to force yourself back into the work force for free. This is rather a suggestion to take a couple hours out of your week to help others for the sake of their wellbeing (and even your own!)

    Volunteering is a way in which you serve a community or a particular population in need that may not have otherwise been able to find assistance. There are opportunities as short as one time services, or upwards beyond a one year commitment. In the middle range, you may sign up for a program in which you meet once a week on a particular day, or only attend special events when they occur. There is bound to be a commitment that is right for you with these endless possibilities. Next you will want to consider what kinds of communities, populations, or issues would you like to work towards? Maybe kids, seniors, pets, disabled, the environment, education, health access, immigrants, or the homeless? Write down a list of some of your interests, and perhaps some populations in which you have had little exposure. You will probably be surprised with all that you come up with!

    Now looking at your list, you may still be wondering how you would go about starting your community service. Actually, you are probably still wondering why you should go out of your way to even initiate such an endeavor. A news article on Naples News stated several benefits that you may find very appealing. First off, you are likely to engage in a larger social circle than if you didn’t have this connection to other volunteers. I am going to speak from experience here. When I started volunteering myself, I found that those I worked with shared many of the same values that I did. They cared about their education and thinking reflectively, the core values of our service at the Community Involvement Center on campus. Most importantly though, they really just felt like “real” people who actually cared to hear about how you are doing. Think about it. Community service would mainly attract those people who care to do something toward a larger purpose outside of themselves. I find it to be very special to be surrounded around this positive energy.

    Another health benefit that stems from this mindset would be the lower levels of stress anxiety that volunteers encounter. This probably is in part from the social support you would likely build, and the fact that you are getting out of the house to try new things! Activity keeps your body and your mind in its top acuity. Additionally, those who volunteered had a better sense of purpose and accomplishment compared to those who did not. This is pretty self explanatory. It is also noted that there are lower mortality rates in those over 70 who volunteer more than 100 hours annually. This is only two hours a week, and it has such a substantial effect!

    Now, as for where you can go about finding places to volunteer, there are many resources on the internet. You may try Servenet.org or volunteermatch.org. Both of these use precise search techniques to narrow down your options based upon your qualifications and interests. SeniorCorps is another option that assists those 55 and older in finding an ideal volunteer site. There have been over 500,000 seniors who have used SeniorCorps’ services successfully. Another option I want to bring mention to that is very different from others, are volunteer vacations. This is where you travel abroad to a location of your choice to do a combination of sightseeing, relaxing, and helping the community. You can find this at Hands up Holidays among some other “voluntourism” agencies. Of course this option is just as expensive as a vacation on its own, however you additionally receive the healing benefits of volunteering, for yourself.

    It’s easy to get caught in a rut of all the mundane tasks that take up our day, and the subpar ways we hope to entertain ourselves. I dare you to take a step out of your comfort zone to try something new! You will feel better in ways you didn’t realize you would. Many people underestimate the positive affect community service can bring.

Video: Volunteer Keeping Seniors Healthier, Happier