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December 27, 2011 > LIFE ElderCare Helps Seniors Stay Healthy and in Their Own Home

LIFE ElderCare Helps Seniors Stay Healthy and in Their Own Home

Washington Hospital Doctor Shares Medical Expertise as Board Member

Dr. Dianne Martin knows firsthand how important it is for seniors to get the support they need to stay healthy. The majority of the patients the Fremont internist and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff sees are over age 65. As a member of the Board of Directors for LIFE ElderCare, she is able to use her skills and medical knowledge to help the organization improve the quality of life for local seniors.

"I joined the board a few years ago because I wanted to get involved in a community organization that was making a difference in the lives of older adults," Martin said. "I understand the issues seniors are facing, particularly from a medical standpoint."

LIFE ElderCare has been serving the Tri-City area for more than 35 years. The organization offers a number of services to help older adults live a good quality life as they age, including meals delivered to their homes, fall prevention, companionship, and transportation support.

"The goal is to help seniors stay living independently in their own homes as long as possible," said Mary Anderson, executive director of LIFE ElderCare. "We started with Meals on Wheels and grew from there."

She said her organization works under the belief that the goal is possible for many seniors with a little bit of help. As the population continues to grow older, helping seniors stay independent will be more important than ever before, particularly in the Tri-City area. According to Anderson, the number of people in Fremont over age 60 has increased 30 percent in the last decade.


Meals and More

LIFE ElderCare's Meals on Wheels program provides nutritious meals to homebound or frail seniors. Hot meals are delivered every day, Monday through Friday, and frozen meals are provided for weekends.

"People who have diabetes or other health issues can get meals that fit their dietary requirements," Martin said. "The program also tries to meet the needs of the diverse client base and provide ethnic foods that appeal to the people we serve."

In addition to providing food, the program also offers a daily wellness check by volunteers who deliver the meals. Sometimes the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person the senior has seen that day, Anderson said.

"The demand for home-delivered meals continues to grow as evidenced during the past year alone," she said. "Over 17,000 meals beyond contract expectations were delivered. The cost for these meals, however, was not budgeted and therefore the organization had to fundraise to make up the difference so that all seniors in need of a meal received one."

Martin added: "If they need food, they get it, because eating a healthy diet is so important. Many of my patients tell me it's easier to pour a bowl of cereal than to make a hot meal. But they will stay healthier longer with better nutrition, and Meals on Wheels provides that."


Fall Prevention

The Fall Prevention program also helps to keep older adults healthy. A certified fitness trainer works with seniors in their own home to create a personalized physical activity routine designed to build up their strength, improve balance and mobility, and reduce the risk of falls.

"Falls are the fifth-leading cause of death for seniors and the number one reason a senior over age 65 goes into a nursing home," Anderson said. "In addition to the exercise routine, we do a safety check in their home and suggest ways of making it safer. Maybe they could use a handrail to grab on to or a throw rug needs to be moved because it's too easy to trip over."

The 12-week program includes weekly visits from a nursing student at Unitek College to answer questions and assess progress. Nursing students monitor seniors' blood pressure and check their medication to see if any drug interactions could cause dizziness or other problems.

"These nursing students play a major role in keeping seniors healthy," Anderson said.

Martin agreed, "One of my patients had been prescribed a medication by a different doctor, and one of the nursing students brought it to my attention. The patient never mentioned it to me when we discussed medications. I would have had no other way of knowing about it."


Friendly Visitors

A growing number of seniors are finding themselves alone and without a support network, Anderson said. LIFE ElderCare's Friendly Visitors program provides companionship to seniors by matching volunteers with older adults who are isolated. Through weekly visits, phone calls, and outings, these volunteers offer companionship to seniors who are alone.

Transportation is another challenge for many older adults. The VIP Rides program offers transportation to frail, homebound seniors who need more help than traditional paratransit services can offer. VIP Rides volunteers escort passengers all the way to their destinations, offering a steady hand to walk up steps or pushing their wheelchairs to medical appointments or other important errands.

"We are always looking for volunteers who want to deliver meals, engage with older adults, or help them get where they need to be," Martin said. "It's a real opportunity to make a difference. Most people are fiercely protective of their independence as they age, and with the help of volunteers, LIFE ElderCare is making that possible for so many seniors."

For more information about LIFE ElderCare, contact Mary Anderson at (510) 574-2091 or visit www.lifeeldercare.org.

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