Poll Findings Give Thumbs Down to Overhauling Social Security and Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on February 19, 2017

As the Trump Administration completes its first month in office, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), lawmakers and union groups gathered to release the findings of a new poll that showed a majority of Americans do not buy into the GOP’s strategy to “fundamentally alter Social Security, the nation’s retirement and disability program and Medicare, the federal health care program for older Americans, and they oppose benefits cuts. Eight out of ten poll recipients favor living the tax cap to fixing Social Security and financially strengthening the program, say the researchers.

The poll findings were released last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol by NCPSSM’s Max Richtman, with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Rep. John Larson (D-CT); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA); Celinda Lake, President Lake Research Partners; Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, Council 220, American Federation of Government Employees; Steve Hill, Director of Retirement Security Campaigns, SEIU; and Nancy Olumekor, Director, American Postal Workers Union Retiree Department.

Don’t Tamper with Our Social Security

“These results prove that Americans want Congress to honor the commitment to all working people who paid into Social Security and Medicare, and keep their hands off these programs,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, at the press conference. “This should be a warning to members of Congress that they tamper with our cherished social insurance programs at their peril,” he says.

NCPSSM’s poll findings, of 800 likely voters nationwide, found that 79 percent of the survey respondent’s favor expanding Social Security benefits and 74 percent support paying for it by gradually requiring employees and employers to pay Social Security taxes on wages above $ 127,000, including majorities across party lines.

The recently released poll found that 77 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, and a whopping 93 percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and they also overwhelmingly opposed raising Medicare’s eligibility age. Seventy five percent favor Security benefits credit for up to five years of time spent outside the paid workforce caring for young children, aging seniors, or family members with disabilities.

Meanwhile, sixty nine percent of the respondents oppose reducing benefits for workers whose average annual lifetime earnings today are 60 thousand dollars or more, again including majorities across party lines. Seventy-three percent of Democrats oppose this, as do 70 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Independents.

According to the NCPSSM poll, respondents expressed strong concerns about Social Security not being there when they retire (64 percent) and not being able to pay for costly prescription drug (65 percent). Roughly the same number (63 percent) say they are worried about having enough money in retirement to be financially secure. Just 53 percent say they are worried about not being able to retire when they want for financial reasons. These concerns reflect voters to strong support for protecting each program, and for policies that would increase benefits and reduce the price of prescription drugs, say the researchers.

Researchers also took a look at how respondents prefer to communicate with the Social Security Administration (SSA). They found that 65 percent express a preference to communicate with a “live person” person at the agency (26 percent through a toll free number) if they want to apply for benefits, replace a lost Social Security card, or had questions about their earnings records. About 31 percent prefer getting their information from the SSA’s website, they said.

Finally, NCPSSM’s national poll indicated that respondents prefer to receive their Social Security statement by mail. Overall 64 percent prefer to receive this by mail and 32 percent prefer an electronic statement by email.

Circling the Wagons to Protect Social Security and Medicare

“Social Security and Medicare represent a promise America has made to all those participating in this system,” said Democratic Senator Van Hollen. “Americans overwhelmingly want to strengthen these essential lifelines. I strongly support efforts to ensure that these programs can increase benefits and continue to deliver financial security for generations to come.”

Congressman Larson says that the NCPSSM poll underscores popular support for the kinds of measures he proposes in his Social Security 2100 Act, which keeps the program solvent into the next century while increasing benefits. “Social Security is not an entitlement; its insurance we paid for,” says the Democratic Congressman, calling on President Trump at the press conference to protect and expand Social Security.

Cardenas made an emotional plea at the press conference to preserve Social Security and Medicare by citing a family story. “My grandson’s great-grandmother was saved by Medicare. It’s a matter of dignity and life,” he said. The Democratic Congressman strongly opposes GOP proposals to privatize the nation’s social insurance programs. “Do we value dignity? Do we value life? Make our President and our Congress commit that they will not take it away from you,” he told the press conference attendees.

Witold Skwierczynski, of the American Federation of Government Employees, came to the press conference with a dire warning: Expect customer SSA service to retirees to get worst in the coming years. Staffing in field offices has been cut by 2, 900 (10 percent) since 2010 while work increased 12 percent, he noted, expecting the agency’s workload to go up 32 percent through 2025 due to the retiring baby boomer generation.

Skwierczynski expects Trump’s recent Continuing Resolution to freeze the hiring of federal employees to further increase waiting times at SSA field offices and for 800 number callers.

“President Trump is a hotel man. If he ran his hotels like SSA he would have another bankruptcy. None of his customers would tolerate a 3 to 4 hour wait for room service. However, SSA customers wait hours, days, weeks, months and years for SSA to process their business. That’s not acceptable,” says Skwierczynski.

Nancy Olumekor, Retiree Department American Postal Workers Union, came calling for Congressional support to improve Social Security and Medicare. “Our members did not vote to destroy Social Security and Medicare to replace them with vouchers. Postal workers are opposed to increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

As President Trump continues to make major changes in federal tax, environmental, labor, education and health policy, NCPSSM and other national aging groups are gearing up for the battle of the century – saving the existing Social Security and Medicare programs for current beneficiaries and future generations. If President Trump and GOP lawmakers view NCPSSM’s poll results as “fake news” they do so at their own risk. Actions to overhaul these two popular domestic programs will send the nation’s voters to the polls in four years. Tampering with Social Security and Medicare may well be hazardous to your political career.

NCPSSM’s poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners from January 4 to January 7, 2017, was sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, American Postal Workers Union, Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers

Save the Roses and Try These Tips: Six Ways to Improving Communication at Home

Published in the Woonsocket Call on February 5, 2007

Effective Communication at home with your husband, wife, or partner is key to maintaining a meaningful, healthy, environment and thriving family. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Author Donna Mac, a well-known corporate trainer, based in South Eastern, Massachusetts, with 25 years of experience in the broadcasting industry, translates effective corporate communication into tips for use in enhancing communication with your loved ones.

According to Mac, sexual infidelity, commonly linked to divorce, is not the leading cause for couples separating. The corporate communications expert notes that a recent article in Psychology Today says that whether a partner’s communication “lifts you up or brings you down” is the single largest predictor of divorce.

So, mastering your communication skills may be the best Valentine’s Day gift you can give, much better than a dozen roses. Mac, founder & president of Rehoboth, MA-based DMacVoice Communications, explains her Six Pillars Of Effective Communication which can bring healthy energy into an ailing relationship and bring you closer together with your loved one.

Six Pillars of Effective Communication

“The first pillar in becoming a more effective communicator,” says Mac, noting this “is tied to ‘knowing and owning who you are.’ That means your strengths and vulnerabilities. You must be comfortable with who you are and understand that you have a right to communicate what you are thinking and feeling.” She cautions us to be careful to always communicate as calmly and respectfully as possible. Don’t wait to communicate until emotions build up to the point where that is not possible.

“Also, get a sense for whether you are you an extrovert or an introvert”. Mac notes that this will influence how you interact with your partner. According to Mac, communication tends to flows more easily for extroverts. Introverts need more time to process before they speak, but they are usually better listeners.

She also cautions against being a passive, or even a passive-aggressive communicator. Both of these styles are non-productive but they are easy to fall into. Often times it feels easier to be a passive communicator because being an effective communicator take courage and work. “These days, it’s easy to hide behind our computer screens,” she says.

The second Pillar calls for the need to understand your partner. “Understand how your personality and communication style differs from that of your loved one,” suggests Mac, who says that there are differences as well as varying points of view in every relationship. “When you disagree, be open to the possibility that either of you may be “right” or “wrong” or a bit of both. Be open to learning something new. It is also important to make it easy for your partner to share his or her vulnerabilities and ask for your help. “Create a safe space for communications by allowing and encouraging your partner to communicate often and to be authentic,” she adds.

To use a phrase from her book, you can continue to “understand your audience” over the years by listening intently and often.

Pillar three encourages you to “master the content of the conversation” you are about to have. She stresses the need to be clear on what it is you would like to say especially if you have to have a challenging conversation.

Mac says, “You may need to practice how you are going to broach an extremely difficult topic. Do your best to speak in a way that is compelling but concise and has the best interest of both of you. Instead of accusing your partner of something, talk about the way that issue has affected you. Remember, they might not know if you don’t’ tell them. Also, try not to ramble. Instead, state your case with clarity and the most positive energy you can muster. If their actions are unacceptable, know where your boundaries lie and clearly and calmly state them.”

Put Yourself Into Their Shoes

Pillar four calls for you to “anticipate questions and reactions” to conversations.” Mac recommends, while you want to make sure you get your point across, ensure that you’ve taken time to put yourself into your partner’s shoes. “Life isn’t easy for anyone. But if you take time to think about and anticipate how they may feel or react to your topic you won’t be so quick to react emotionally and with harsh words and energy.

By anticipating reaction you will be able become more proactive in your relationship, she says, noting that, “your partner will appreciate it.”

“Remember, effective communication in a trusted relationship takes time, thought and occasional discomfort,” says Mac.

Pillar five suggests that you “speak to serve” in your conversations. “When you ‘serve’ the person you’re speaking with, you are taking time to make sure that the conversation is not “all about you”. It’s for the benefit of you, for them and for the greater good of the relationship or even the entire family!” says Mac. “When you serve while speaking, you are making sure that understanding is taking place. If you’re not sure that it is, you might want to say something like, “is this making sense to you?”

Finally, Pillar six calls for you to “detach from the outcome” of the conversation. “If you follow the first 5 Pillars of Effective Communication you will be well on your way to becoming a highly effective communicator. But you aren’t quite there yet!” states Mac. It is very important that you don’t try to control your partner’s reaction.

Instead of concerning yourself with perfection, remain flexible and detached, knowing that total agreement is never possible. Plus, it’s really unimportant. What is important is the health and strength of your relationship and two powerful voices, even if they don’t always see eye to eye,” she adds.

Don’t Try to Change Others, Change Yourself

Mac suggests that if you want to become an effective communicator, don’t focus on changing the other person. We have no control over other people, only ourselves. “So work on changing what you can change in your communication style so that you can communicate in compelling and influential ways”.

While Mac’s Six Pillars Of Effective Communication can be directed to couples, look at the recommendations and try replacing “romantic” partner with “business” partner or someone you’re collaborating with at work. And replace “the entire family” with “the entire department or company in Pillar five.

“These communication tips are universal and are the foundation for healthy professional AND personal relationships. The are not easy to integrate into our lives, but the more you use them, the quicker they’ll become part of who you are and how you communicate.”

Donna Mac is author of Guide to a RICHER LIFE–Know Your Worth, Find Your Voice & Speak Your Mind and The Six Pillars of Effective Communication. She is also a keynote speaker and private coach. For more details, go to http://www.dmacvoice.com.

Search on for GOP Senators to Protect Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 29, 2017

Since President Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20, he is making good on some of his hundreds of campaign promises. During his first week in office Trump signed three executive orders declaring new government policies and eight presidential memoranda detailing the priorities of his new administration.

But, for aging groups, with Trumps arrival in Washington, D.C, the skirmish officially begins to protect Medicare in this new session of Congress.

With Trump and Congressional Republican Leadership on record for their support of repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, President and CEO Max Richtman, of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), clearly sees the writing on the wall. If successful, Richtman warns that GOP legislative actions will severely damage Medicare impacting 57 million seniors and disabled adults who rely on the program for their health care.

Building A Firewall Against Privatizing Medicare

With the GOP holding a slim majority of the U.S. Senate seats, 52 to the Democrats 48 seats, Richtman sees swaying Republican Senators away from their party’s position on privatizing Medicare to protect the federal health care program.

On January 24, 2017, Richtman urged Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to be the Senate’s “firewall against Medicare cuts.” His correspondence asked them to vote against proposals to privatize Medicare, raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, and repeal provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law, that provided additional benefits to beneficiaries.

Richtman reminded the GOP Senators that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) improved Medicare benefits and extended the solvency of the Part A Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by more than a decade. ACA’s closing of the prescription drug donut hole has put money into the pockets of Medicare beneficiaries. The health care law also added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated copays for preventive services like cancer screenings, he said.

“I am also troubled by “premium support” [GOP] proposals to privatize Medicare,” says Richtman. According the aging advocate who was a former staff director of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and a 16-year veteran of Capitol Hill, under previous privatization plans, beneficiaries would not enroll in the current program; rather, they would receive a capped payment or voucher to be used to purchase private health insurance or traditional Medicare. Private plans would have to provide benefits that are at least actuarially equivalent to the benefit package provided by fee-for-service Medicare, but they could manipulate their plans to attract the youngest and healthiest seniors. This would leave traditional Medicare with older and sicker beneficiaries whose higher health costs would lead to higher premiums that they and others may be unable or unwilling to afford, reducing the fee for service risk pool even further resulting in a death spiral for traditional Medicare.

GOP Medicare Fix Financially Hurts Beneficiaries

Richtman also told the GOP Senators that NCPSSM opposed the raising of the Medicare eligibility age from age 65 to 67 because the proposal would increase costs for millions of older Americans. Absent the guarantees in the existing ACA, such as requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions and limiting age rating, millions of seniors 65 and 66 without Medicare would find private insurance unaffordable. Raising the eligibility age would also increase average costs for Medicare as younger, healthier seniors are eliminated from the risk pool and costs are spread across an older, less-healthy population, he says.

Richtman urged the GOP Senators to oppose efforts underway in the 115th Congress to block grant Medicaid, cap Medicaid payments on a per-beneficiary basis (per capita caps) and/or repeal the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. He noted that these policy changes would “financially hurt states and lead to states cutting services, quality and eligibility for the most vulnerable of our senior population.”

Many seniors would not be able to absorb the loss of coverage and increase in their costs that would occur if these proposals became law. In fact, half of all Medicare beneficiaries in 2014 had incomes below $24,150 and Medicare households spent over two times more than the average American household on out-of-pocket health care costs,” he says.

“If Senate Democrats stand strong, we only need a handful of Republicans to protect the commitment to Medicare,” says Richtman. “We hope Senators McCain, Collins, Grassley, and Alexander to do the right thing for seniors in their states – and across America.”

Richtman correspondence to the four GOP Senators is part of NCPSSM’s pro-active legislative strategy to protect the existing Medicare program. The letters sent quantify the economic impact that proposed Medicare cuts would have on seniors in the four GOP Senators’ states: Arizona (with 1.3 million beneficiaries), Maine (306,000 beneficiaries), Iowa (nearly 572,000 beneficiaries), and Tennessee (1.2 million beneficiaries).

“We know that these four Republican Senators have the wisdom and judgment to protect seniors in their states from legislation that would impose painful Medicare cuts,” says Richtman. “It’s time to slam the brakes on any attempts to pass harmful legislation.”

Senate Democrats Attempt to Block HHS Nomination

Two days before Trump was sworn in as president, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held confirmation hearing on Rep. Tom Price, (R-Ga), Trump’s nominee to oversee the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that oversees the Medicare program. In confirmed, he is expected to play a key role in the GOP’s efforts to privatize Medicare.

No formal vote was taken at the HELP Committee hearing but the Congressman is scheduled to testify a week later at the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on his nomination.

During the four-hour heated confirmation hearing, held in 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building, HHS nominee Price dodged questions lobbed by Democrats about the Trump Administrations position on the future of Medicare. They also zeroed in on his personal financial investments in health care companies, calling them conflicts of interest which the denied.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon and a six term congressman, considered to be one of the most vocal critics of Obamacare on Capitol Hill, is expected play a key role in the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, sitting on the HELP Committee, gave this take on Price after the first of two confirmation hearings: “Price hasn’t been able to win Democratic support for any of his health care legislation [in the House] and today confirmed that he and his allies have no plan that can win support from across the aisle or the millions of Americans who would be affected by tearing down the Affordable Care Act. He conceded that he should not stop Americans under twenty-six from staying on their parents’ insurance, re-open the dreaded prescription drug doughnut hole for seniors, deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and reinstate lifetime limits on care. But he has no plan to make that happen.”

Adds Whitehouse, “Price also failed to reassure the Rhode Islanders I serve who rely on Medicare for their care. He has fought to voucherize the program, which would gradually unload costs onto seniors while eroding their benefits. He needed to tell the American people they could depend on him to faithfully administer Medicare and keep the sacred promise we’ve made to our seniors of a dignified retirement with access to good health care. He did not.”

“Congress must protect Social Security and Medicare, but many Republicans see the latest election results as an opportunity to hollow out these vital programs. President Trump’s pick to oversee Medicare has long championed efforts to privatize Medicare, which I strongly oppose. Cutting benefits and privatizing these programs could hurt millions of Americans and harm our economy,” said Sen. Jack Reed, noting that these programs reduce poverty and improve public health in ways that benefit all Americans.

As NCPSSM’s Richtman continues his effort to sway GOP Senators, rallying the troops at the state-level may well be the path to blocking GOP attempts to privatize Medicare. Voters in states with Republican Senators must send this message to their elected official, “don’t touch my Medicare.” Let the movement to strengthen Medicare in these states begin today.

Samaritans Celebrate Their Fortieth Birthday

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 22, 2017

In 2001, Denise Panichas took the temporary job as executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, only expecting to stay at the helm for six week. Looking back over the last 16 years the Woonsocket resident clearly sees the hook that has kept her in her very demanding job.

“After my arrival people I knew, from all walks of life, came up to me sharing their personal stories of losing a loved one to suicide or being a caregiver to a person with physical or behavioral problems,” says Panichas. “My decision to stay in my temporary position for just one week, turned into two weeks and then time just quickly flew by,” she says, noting that her empathy grew daily with each encounter with Rhode Islanders who suffered the tragic loss of a loved one.

Surviving the Financial Storm

Running a small statewide nonprofit is not as easy as one thinks, notes Panichas, as she reflected on the uncontrollable obstacles she had to overcome to keep The Samaritans, the state’s only nonprofit group exclusively dedicated to suicide prevention and education, financially afloat.

Panichas watched her donations dry up as the America’s economy spiraled out of control during the 2008 financial crisis, some calling it the nation’s worst the 1930’s Great Depression. Before that, at the state-level, The Samaritans along with many of Rhode Island’s nonprofits, lost funding when the United Way of Rhode Island eliminated member agencies, cutting assistance to many nonprofit groups. “The Samaritans lost over $50,000 from these cuts,” says Panichas, stressing that that downsizing and redirected fundraising efforts to target individual contributors and special event fundraisers (“Cross the Bridge to Hope” at the Pell Bridge Run) brought in needed funds into the nonprofit’s coffers to man the hotlines and its grief support group.

Today, 17 percent of The Samaritan’s funding comes from state and local grants, the rest coming from foundation, individual, corporate and special event contributions. Eighty one percent of its fundraising dollars is allocated to program, she says.

But, Panichas now sees better times for The Samaritans as she begins organizing events and programs that will take place in the upcoming months to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of The Samaritans. “In February, we are planning to release the details about the free programs and special events that will serve as our fundraisers,” she says.

Panichas and her board of 12 community leaders, from six Rhode Island communities and nearby Massachusetts, are also in discussion with the Preservation Society of Pawtucket to purchase the Baker-Hanley House, one of the City’s oldest houses, on Park Place, to serve as its first owned headquarters. The agency is planning a “Peace Garden” at the side of the historic structure to allow visitors to mediate and reflect on loved ones they have lost through suicide. .

Over forty years, The Samaritans have worked hard to bring the topic of suicide out of the closet and into public discussion, say Meredith Hampton, president of The Samaritan’s who has served on its board for over 15 years. “We have persevered and gained public support who have rallied behind our efforts,” she says.

Like Panichas, Hampton, a Cranston resident who serves as senior project manager for Norwood, Massachusetts-based Cramer Production Company, a marketing and communications firm, is thrilled that her nonprofit is celebrating its ruby anniversary of providing programs and services to the Rhode Island community. Hampton notes that owning a building will “put a face to the organization” and she expects the capital campaign to be announced in a couple of months.

Reaching out to Rhode Island’s Lonely

“Feeling low with nowhere to turn” noted songwriter Bill Withers says is a public service announcement regularly played, there is a place to call – The Samaritans – where trained volunteers “are there to listen.” Incorporated in 1977, the Pawtucket-based nonprofit program is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of suicide by befriending the despairing and lonely throughout the state’s 39 cities and towns.

Since the inception, The Samaritans has received more than 550,000 calls and trained more 1,355 volunteers to answer its confidential and anonymous Hotline/Listening Lines.

With the first Samaritan branch started in England in 1953, independent Samaritan branches can now be found in more than 40 countries of the world. “Samaritans, can I help you?” is quietly spoken into the phone across the world in a multilingual chorus of voices,” notes its web site.

The communication-based program teaches volunteers to effectively listen to people who are in crisis, says Panichas, noting that conversations are free, confidential and, most importantly, anonymous.

A rigorous 21-hour training program teaches volunteers to listen to callers without expressing personal judgments or opinions. Panichas said that the listening techniques called “befriending,” calls for 90 percent listening and 10 percent talking.
“Suicide is considered a missed opportunity in prevention,” says Panichas. She stresses, “If you are doing all the talking there is a very chance that you will miss what is really bothering the hopeless caller.”

Panichas noted in 2016 more than 5,491 calls were logged into The Samaritans’ Listening Line, a great resource for caregivers and older Rhode Islanders. She estimates that 997 came from seniors.

In 2016, The Samaritans hosted over 108,305 visitors to its website, many going to caregiver information. The nonprofit’s website received 1,487,691 hits and 233,336 pages were viewed. Panichas believes that the increased website visits are due to the “growing problem of suicide and our nonprofit group’s effective use of social media.”

Other services include a peer-to-peer grief Safe Place Support Group for those left behind by suicide as well as community education programs.

The Samaritans can be the gateway to care or a “compassionate nonjudgmental voice on the other end of the line,” Panichas notes. “It doesn’t matter what your problem is, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, seeking resources for mental health services in the community or being lonely or just needing to talk, our volunteers are there to listen.”

Rhode Island’s Art Community Supports Program and Services

In December 2011, The Samaritans began a social venture, by relocating to the City of Pawtucket’s 307 acre Arts & Entertainment District. According to Panichas, a built out professional gallery allowed her to open the Forget-Me-Not Gallery and Community Education Center. Through networking and partnerships with Rhode Island’s fine arts and crafts community, “we are able to foster hope, inspiration and commemoration of the lives of our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide,” she says.

“Every piece of art sold or every gift bought through our gift shop provides needed funded for our programs and also contributes to Rhode Island’s state artistic small business economy,” says Panichas.

Eric Auger of Pawtucket and co-owner of Ten31 Productions also in Pawtucket, volunteers his time and talent in curating gallery shows throughout the year, says Panichas, noting that there have been more than two dozen exhibits, performances and education programs since 2011.

At the Forget-Me-Not Gallery, no sales taxes are charged on one-of-a-kind pieces of art work. The gallery also is a retail site for Rhode Island-based Alex and Ani jewelry and other giftware.

For those seeking to financially support the programs of The Samaritans, its Gallery and Education Center is available to rent for special events, meetings and other types of occasions. For information on gallery rental, call the Samaritans business line at 401-721-5220; or go to http://www.samaritansri.org.

Need to Talk? Call a volunteer at The Samaritans. Call 401.272.4044 or toll free in RI (1-800) 365-4044.

For persons interested in more information about suicide emergencies, The Samaritans website, http://www.samaritansri.org, has an emergency checklist as well as information by city and town including Blackstone Valley communities from Pawtucket to Woonsocket.

Report Links Improved Brain Health to Sleep

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 16, 2017

Seven to eight hours of sleep per day may be key to maintaining your brain health as you age, says a newly released consensus report issued the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH). The report’s recommendations, hammered out by scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts working on brain health issues at meeting convened by AARP with support of Age UK, in Toronto, Canada in late July 2016 Toronto, translates the scientific research evidence compiled on sleep and brain health into actionable recommendations for the public.

An AARP consumer survey released this month [in conjunction with GCBH’s report] found that 99 percent of age 50-plus respondents believe that their sleep is crucial to brain health, but over four in 10 (43 percent) say they don’t get enough sleep during the night. More than half (about 54 percent) say they tend to wake up too early in the morning and just can’t get back to sleep.

As to sleep habits, the adult respondents say that the most frequently cited activity that they engage in within an hour of bedtime are watching television and browsing the web. One-third keep a phone or electronic device by their bed. Nearly 88 percent of the adults think a cool bedroom temperature is effective in helping people sleep. Yet only two in five (41 percent) keep their room between 60 and 67 degrees. Finally, the most common reason people walk up during the night is to use the bathroom.

“Although sleep problems are a huge issue with older adults, it’s unfortunate the importance of sleep is often not taken seriously by health care professionals,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director. “It’s normal for sleep to change as we age, but poor quality sleep is not normal. Our experts share [in GCBH’s report] the steps people can take to help maintain their brain health through better sleep habits,” said Lock, in a statement released with the report.

Sleep Vital to Brain Health

The new GCBH recommendations cover a wide range of sleep-related issues, including common factors that can disrupt sleep, symptoms of potential sleep disorders, and prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. The consensus report is jam-packed with tips from experts, from detailing ways to help a person fall asleep or even stay asleep, when to seek professional help for a possible sleep disorder, and the pros and cons of taking a quick nap.

Based on the scientific evidence, the GCBH report says that sleep is vital to brain health, including cognitive function, and sleeping on average 7-8 hours each day is related to better brain and physical health in older people.

The 16-page GCBH consensus report notes that the sleep-wake cycle is influenced by many different factors. A regular sleep-wake schedule is tied to better sleep and better brain health. Regular exposure to light and physical activity supports good sleep, says the report.

According to the GCBH report, people, at any age, can change their behavior to improve their sleep. Persistent, excessive daytime sleepiness is not a normal part of aging. Sleep disorders become more common with age, but can often be successfully treated. People with chronic inadequate sleep are at higher risk for and experience more severe health problems, including dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

“A 2015 consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society mirrors the recently released GCBH report recommending that a person sleep at least 7 hours per night, notes Dr. Katherine M. Sharkey, MD, PhD, FAASM, Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Human Behavior who also serves as Assistant Dean for Women in Medicine and Science. “Seven to eight hours seems to be a ‘sweet spot’ for sleep duration,” she says, noting that several studies indicate that sleeping too little or too much can increase risk of mortality.

More Sleep Not Always Better

Sharkey says that individuals with insomnia sometimes use a strategy of spending more time in bed, with the idea that if they give themselves more opportunity to sleep, they will get more sleep and feel better, but this can actually make sleep worse. “One of the most commonly used behavioral treatments for insomnia is sleep restriction, where patients work with their sleep clinician to decrease their time in bed to a time very close to the actual amount of sleep they are getting,” she says, noting that this deepens their sleep.

Sleep apnea, a medical disorder where the throat closes off during sleep, resulting in decreased oxygen levels, can reduce the quality of sleep and is often associated with stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, says Sharkey. While sleep apnea is often associated with men (24 percent), it also affects nine percent of woman and this gender gap narrows in older age, she notes.

Many older adults who were diagnosed with sleep apnea many years ago often times did not pursue medical treatment because the older CPAP devices were bulky and uncomfortable, says Sharkey, who acknowledges that this technology is much better today.

“We know how many questions adults have about how much sleep is enough, and the role that sleep plays in brain health and cognitive function,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “This [GCBH] report answers a lot of these questions and we hope it will be a valuable source of information for people,” she says.

Simple Tips to Better Sleep

Getting a goodnights sleep may be as easy as following these tips detailed in the 16-page GCBH report.

Consider getting up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed to help avoid disrupting your sleep to use the bathroom. Avoid using OTC medications for sleep because they can have negative side-effects, including disrupted sleep quality and impaired cognitive functioning.
·
The GCBH report notes that dietary supplements such as melatonin may have benefits for some people, but scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Be particularly cautious of melatonin use with dementia patients.

Naps are not always a cure to enhancing your sleep. Avoid long naps; if you must nap, limit to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

“There has been such a steady stream of revealing brain-health reports that it would seem people would change their habits accordingly,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Taking active steps is what’s important – and the earlier the better,” she added.

“The personal benefits are obvious, but we should be aware of the cost savings that better brain health can produce. If people in their
50s get on board, the impact on healthcare costs and a reduced burden of caregiving 20 years down the road could be significant,” Connell added. “At the very least, those savings could help cover other rising costs. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to assess and improve aspects of diet and exercise. And we should not overlook the importance of sleep.”

The full GCBH recommendations can be found here: http://www.globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org. The 2016 AARP Sleep and Brain Health Survey can be found here: http://www.aarp.org/sleepandbrainhealth.

Can Our Nation Survive Trump and the GOP’s Control of Capitol Hill?

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 8, 2017

Almost two months ago when GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump trounced his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and his party took control of both chamber of Congress. Trump’s surprising victory stunned both voters and political commentators and pundits covering the heated presidential race. According to a November 16, 2016 Gallup Poll, 80 percent of Trump’s voters are “excited,” while 76 percent of Clinton’s voters say they are “afraid.” A large majority of the respondents (75 percent) shared one reaction: “surprise.”

Days after the tumultuous election, Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based the Brookings Institution, penned his thoughts about how president-elect Trump might govern the divided nation. His posting, “Four Scenarios for a Trump Presidency,” can be found on the Brooking’s FixGov blog, written on November 14, 2016.

Speculating on Trump’s White House Governance

In his 1,286 word blog, West, an American author, political scientist, pollical commentator who formerly taught political science at Brown University for 26 years, says that Trump might choose to govern as a traditional Republican endorsing tax cuts, deregulation and repealing Obamacare. Like other GOP politicians he would call for reinstituting law and order, fighting ISIS and other extremist militant groups, and controlling illegal immigration from coming into this country. “These typical GOP positions might resolve his philosophical differences on “entitlement reform and free trade,” says West, an author or co-author of 22 books.

Trump just might even turn over the reins of the presidency to Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, says West, these individuals “becoming the de facto prime minister.”

According to West, like president-elect Trump did during the presidential campaign, he might take on the role of a “popular rogue.” A “populist Trump could break conventional political rules and “attack the political establishment to represent the little guy,” notes West’s blog posting.

West also suggests that Trump might ultimately fail as president. After all he lost the popular vote by 2 percentage points or nearly three million votes and alienated women, millennials, minorities and immigrants with his insulting comments. Scandals and disclosures about his personal behavior and continuing concerns about serious financial conflicts of interest could derail his “honeymoon” phase at the beginning of his presidential term and negatively impact his popularity ratings, he says.

West also speculates in his blog that policy backlashes due to millions losing health care coverage by his push to repeal Obamacare, privatizing Medicare or gutting Social Security, a slow-down in the economy or even Trump’s continued liking of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might make him a one term president, like President Jimmy Carter.

Finally, public outcry and violent protest may turn Trump into an authoritarian leader. If this happens West expresses concerns smear campaigns (waged by White House Strategist Steve Bannon), the use of federal agencies to “attack adversaries” and the use of local police to “crack down” on protestors. “Firing top intelligence officials would suggest that Trump wants compliant people who will do his bidding against foreign and domestic adversaries,” he says.

Big Changes with the GOP in Charge

“It is a scary time in American politics,” says West, who expects to see big changes on Capitol Hill in 2017. The Brookings political pundit predicts that a Trump White House with a GOP controlled Congress will tackle large tax cuts, corporate tax reform, repealing Obamacare (but not having anything to replace it with), and reversing the Dodd Frank financial regulation bill. With the Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress he does not expect gridlock during the first six months of the 115th Congress.

West predicts that in the long-run many of the GOP president and Republican Congressional leadership policy initiatives will be problematic. “They are governing as if they have a clear mandate even though they lost the popular vote, he says.

West, like some political observers, expect many of the GOP’s conservative policy proposals to hurt the people who voted for Trump. The tax cuts go disproportionately to the top one percent and proposed changes in Medicare and Medicaid will limit medical care, he said.

“In a couple of years, the economy probably will be much weaker than it is today, which will undermine the very rationale of Trump’s candidacy,” says West, noting that if this happens the newly elected president could have a 30 percent job approval rating by 2018. “Of course, that is when he really will become dangerous! The risk is he may try things to improve his poll numbers, such as identifying scapegoats or confronting adversaries,” warns West.

“GOP Congressional leaders have plans to privatize Medicare and block grant Medicaid to the states. This will impose limitations on medical care and make it more difficulty for needy people to get the help they need,” adds West, who also sees Republicans moving to reduce home care and medical assistance to America’s elderly.

West sees the “GOP legislative initiatives as being very contentious politically, and will reinforce perceptions of the GOP as cold and heartless [to Americans].”

“Democrats will not be able to pass legislation. Their main power will be trying to block things they don’t like or stop nominations at confirmation hearings that they find problematic,” says West, noting that they will be put in a defensive posture. “They will seek to protect certain gains made during the Obama administration. However, Congressional Democratic leadership may well be able to work together on infrastructure investments,” he says.

West believes that Trump’s fix for the economy will not work. “In the longer-run, there is a risk that inflation will go up. Interest rates already have risen in anticipation of this,” he says.

“The market is expecting Trump to spend a lot of money and not be able to corral spending by the same amount. That will increase deficits and drive up inflation. It will be hard to blame this on Democrats since there has been low inflation for years now. It will be pretty obvious that GOP policies are responsible for the rate increases,” West adds.

Democrats Mobilize, Video Sends Message to Congress

As president-elect Trump’s inauguration approaches, President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill last week to urge Congressional Democrats to block the GOP president and the Republican Congressional leadership’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare, the outgoing president’s signature healthcare reform law and to fight their legislative policy initiatives. Behind closed doors Obama urged Democratic lawmakers to not “rescue” the Republicans by passing replacement measures. He suggested calling the GOP’s new plan, “Trumpcare,” to ensure that they are held responsible for any disruptions in health coverage. At press time there seems to be no GOP health care plan to consider.

After Obama’s meeting Democrats lawmakers have begun using the phrase, “Make America Sick Again, tying into Trump’s wildly recognized campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Hollywood is moving to block Trump’s policy initiatives. Almost a week ago documentarian Liz Garbus unveiled her one minute and 49 second video (#StandUpForUS), released by Humanity for Progress, to urge Congress to block any legislative initiatives pushed by Trump and his GOP allies that attack groups he marginalized during last year’s presidential campaign. Celebrities and activists lined up to participate in this video. They included Rosie Perez, Keegan-Michael Key, Tavi Gevinson, Lea Delaria, Sally Field, Steve Buscemi, Zoe Kazan, Jeffrey Wright, and Janet Mock, among others.

“The majority of Americans, regardless of who they voted for, did not vote for racism, for sexism, or for xenophobia. And yet Donald Trump won,” notes the video. At the end of the video, viewers are asked to email the video to members of Congress, as well as to sign a petition on http://www.MoveOn.org, to resist Trump and the GOP agenda,

Stay Tuned

The aftermath of the 2017 presidential election has politically split our nation. Although Trump won the Electoral College, Clinton, the former secretary of state, pulled in over 64 million votes. Even without a clear legislative mandate President-elect Trump and Republican Congressional leadership are moving at a quick pace to make major policy and systemic changes during the first 100 days of the 115th Congress. Democrats are now forced to play the loyal opposition for the next four years and fight against GOP policies rammed through the legislative process. Will GOP legislative fixes push American in the right direction? Or will the nation survive these changes? Stay tuned.

Local Legislators Attentive, but Not Presidential Hopefuls

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 1, 2017

As 2017 approaches, it is a time one naturally reflects on the year that has past, the people we have lost, and look towards what the incoming year will hold. Newspapers also look back of the interesting stories that shaped the news, too. This “aging beat” columnist reflected on his coverage of aging, health care and medical issues. During 2016, 47 weekly commentaries appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, some even were printed by Golocalprov.com, the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald. A myriad of issues were covered in this weekly commentary throughout the year.

During the very heated 2016 presidential I called on both Democratic and GOP candidates in the primary and election to give us the specifics about their policy positions on Social Security and Medicare. But, we saw aging issues mostly ignored in the more than two dozen debates that took place in this election cycle (21 primary debates and four general election debates). With Donald Trump taking the White House from the Democrats and his party controlling both chambers of Congress another commentary sounded the alarm about the GOP’s impending assault next session on Social Security and Medicare, America’s most popular domestic programs. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, other commentaries covered legislative initiatives on Smith Hill. One looked at Sen. Louis P. DiPalma’s call for increased wages for the state’s direct care workers. These workers deserve this pay raise. Another covered Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian’s successful efforts to mandate holocaust and genocide studies in educational curriculum for all middle and high school studies. With anti-Semitic incidents increasing throughout the Ocean State we “must never forget.”

Of course, throughout last year my commentaries also addressed caregiving issues, making readers aware of scams and to educate them as to how they could protect themselves. One even shared my personal experience of putting down Abby, my 11-year-old chocolate Labrador, to end her suffering. Pet owners throughout the Ocean State have gone through this universal, painful experience and could identify with my painful decision.

Readers also learned about the very interesting details of a Near Death Experience of Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber, who came back to life with a spiritual knowledge of health and healing. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247-page book, “Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.” This book is a great read for those seeking spiritual insight into maintaining good health.

Finally, in 2016 one item was scratched off my bucket list. Readers learned about my first book, “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly,” being published in August. The 313-page book is a compilation of 79 of my weekly commentaries and is chocked full of researched stories and insightful stories with experts and everyday people who shared their personal observations about growing older and aging gracefully. Go to http://www.herbweiss.com for more details.

Below is a sampling of articles from 2016 that will allow you to see the breath and depth of my commentaries (over 200 of these previously published commentaries can be found on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.) Enjoy.

“Older Americans Impacting the Economy,” published in the September 25, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the September 26, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

Everyone has heard this comment one time or another during their life — older people are a drain on the economy. But, in 2016 a newly released AARP report shatters this myth once and for all by detailing a rise in spending and workforce contributions of aging baby boomers.

AARP’s 28 page report, The Longevity Economy: How People Over 50 Are Driving Economic and Social Value in the US, takes a hard look at how our nation’s population of 111 million 50-plus consumers impacts the economy.

According to this report, released on September 20, the 50-plus age groups generates a whopping $7.6 trillion in economic activity (a $500 billion increase from 2013), including $5 trillion in consumer spending by people 50-plus. The researchers say the increases reflects the nation’s shifting demographic and spending patterns of this group due to longer life spans and prolonged employment.

“Does Exercised Aid Brain Heath: The Debate’s Yet to be Determined,” published in the August 31, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the September 1, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

According to AARP’s latest health aging survey findings released last year, age 40 and over respondents who regularly exercise rate their brain health significantly higher than non-exercisers. They also cite improvements in their memory, ability to: learn new things, managing stress, and even making decisions. On the other hand, the findings reveal an overwhelming majority of these respondents. see the benefits of exercise, but only 34 percent are meeting the Global Council on Brain Health’s (GCBH) recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

These findings in the 37-page Survey on Physical Activity report, note that having willpower, enjoying exercise, identification as an “exerciser,” lack of enjoyment and feeling like you have the energy to exercise or lack money to exercise are the key factors that differentiate exercisers from non-exercisers.
Although health care experts applaud the benefits of exercise and its positive impact on organs in your body, but the findings on improving brain heath are self-reported at best, not empirically derived.

“AARP Exec Seeks to Change America’s Perception of Growing Old,” published in the March 7, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the March 8, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

In 2016, AARP/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins released her new 272-page book, “Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age.” AARP’s top official suggested it is time to redefine what it means to grow old in America. Throughout its pages the Northern Virginia resident encourages readers to re-think the negative stories they consistently tell themselves and others, urging them to come together to change both the conversation about aging and its reality. While sharing these ideas with others, and meeting fearless people working to change what it means to age in America, Jo Ann was inspired to write her book.
In Disrupt Aging, Jenkins focuses on three core areas—health, wealth, and self—to show people how to embrace opportunities and change the way society looks at getting older. Here, she chronicles her own journey and that of others who are making their mark as disruptors to show readers how we can be active, healthy, and happy as we get older. Through engaging narrative, she touches on all the important issues facing people over age 50 today, from caregiving and mindful living to building age-friendly communities and making our money last.

“Experienced Workers to Seek Greener Pastures in 2016,” published in the January 25, 2016 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the January 26, 2016 issue of the Pawtucket Times

In 2016, an AARP survey found that with an improving economy older experienced workers were seeking new employment, making “more money” was the key motivator.
The “Experience in Work” survey (with its findings detailed in a 47-page report) reported that of the approximately 4 in ten inclined to seek new work this year, 23% are either extremely or very likely to try to find a new job this year, and another 16% say that they are somewhat likely to job-seek during that period.
Researchers say that respondents, ages 35 to 64, cite career growth potential (21%), better work flexibility (25%), more enjoyable work (30%), as well as better health benefits (28%) as reasons they plan to seek new employment this year.

Meanwhile, experienced workers are willing to take the leap outside of their job sector. A quarter (24%) of those likely to switch companies say that they do not expect to remain in the same industry. An even larger percentage (42%) do not even know what type of business they will end up in.
Responding to AARP’s survey findings Ed Mazze, a widely acclaimed Rhode Island economist says that retaining employees is quite simple. “To build a good workforce, the company must make work interesting, recognize the accomplishments of its employees, provide good working conditions, have a competitive compensation system and an opportunity for the employee to be promoted and continue to learn,” he says.
Throughout 2017 I look forward to penning weekly commentaries that will shed light on aging issues, most importantly providing you tips on how to age gracefully.