Here’s My Advice to the Graduating Class of 2013

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 31, 2013

Last week, commencement speakers at Colleges and Universities around the country imparted their wisdom to tens of thousands of graduating College seniors and their families. With the advent of social media, and web sites, millions more will get advice from these Commencement Speeches given by well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and CEOs, detailing simple tips and observations that if taken, just might offer the young graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life.

Quotes in Top 2013 Commencement Speeches Often times, local newspapers report on Commencement Speeches delivered at each graduation season. According to Graduation Wisdom, a website that compiles the best Commencement Speeches and memorable quotes, some speeches are just better than others. Some of most memorable quotes taken from the top 2013 Commencement Speeches detailed on this website included:

John Green, educator and writer of adult fiction, who won the 2006 Printz Award for his first novel, Looking for Alaska, told Butler University’s 2013 graduating class that “There are many more jobs out there than you have ever heard of. Your dream job might not yet exist. If you had told College Me that I would become a professional YouTuber, I would’ve been like, “That is not a word, and it never should be.”

Eric Idle, British Comedian and Actor who was a member of the British surreal comedy group, Monty Python, stated in his Commencement Speech at
Whitman College, “Life has a very simple plot: First you’re here and then you’re not.

Yes, more sage advice was given to graduating seniors this year by Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, who stated in his Commencement Speech at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: “Believe that if you make courageous choices and bet on yourself and put yourself out there, that you will have an impact, as a result of what you do. And you don’t need to know now what that would be or how will it happen because no one ever does.”

Typical Advice in Commencement Speeches If you look closely, you can find life lessons noted in Commencement Speeches given at Colleges and Universities over the years, that just might lead to a happy and successful life, says Cristina Negrut, who penned “15 Rules for a Happy and Successful Life,” that can be found on Graduation Wisdom’s website.

Negrut notes that Commencement Speakers, usually at the top in their professional game, tell the graduating seniors a number of rules to prepare them for leaving the campus, assisting them to make their mark as adults. Specific advice includes: Don’t worry, your life’s passion will find you. Always trust yourself and learn to take bold action. Never let anyone define who you are. Chase your big dreams. Don’t sit on the sideline, take the initiative and quickly get into the game. Be persistent and tenacious, and never give up. Don’t fear failures in life, learn from them. Nobody is perfect, including you. Make use of your creativity and imagination. Remain in the present moment, not the past or future. Don’t play it safe, always take risks. Learn to embrace change. Work hard. Live selflessly and give back to others.

The Class of 2013 will begin their new life journey with many challenges to face. Gas prices are now around $ 3.50 per gallon. Mortgage rates declined to the lowest level in decades, but many of the graduating seniors, burdened by huge student loan debt, leave college without a job, without adequate credit rating or a down payment to purchase a home.

Although the economy is slowing improving in the Ocean State, graduating seniors, like graduating classes before them, may be forced to relocate to other state’s to land their first professional jobs. The Ocean State continues to be one of the last states to see its economy revive.

My Tips for 2013 Graduates
At press time, I sit with a Commencement Speech written, but with no invitation from a University or College to give it. But if I were asked to speak before a graduating class of 2013, I would give them tips on how to age gracefully throughout their accumulating years. .

Aging can be viewed as a life-long, unpredictable journey. But some people feverishly attempt to not embrace it, choosing to hold onto their gradual, fading youth, fearing the onset of wrinkles, sagging stomachs and even gray hair. As you move into your middle-years and beyond, look at your life as a meaningful journey, keeping focused on the present moment, not strapped to past experience, nor future events.

When you confront life’s health, financial, and professional challenges, keep a positive attitude rather than being overwhelmed by negativity. Each day you will make daily choices as to how you will tackle and react to your problems and life’s difficulties. In every situation, you can see the proverbial glass as either being “half-full” or “half-empty”. A positive attitude allows you to see a “half-full” glass, this allowing you to successfully age.

Savor Your Failures
As we grow older, sometimes we put too much energy reflecting on our personal and professional defeats, focusing on the “bad hand” we were dealt in life. Each and every day, savor your victories, but it is important for you to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and failures. Learning from your shortcomings will build a strong bridge to future successes.

Also, forgive others who have hurt you personally and professionally. You cannot live or reconcile your life peacefully if you are still holding on the grudges, anger and bitterness, all tied to past relationships and negative employment experiences

In your adult years, time flies by rapidly, like a blink of an eye. Amma, a Hindu spiritual teacher, tells her followers to view their life as a ‘cancelled check’. Let go of those past regrets, forgive yourself for those mistakes especially made in childhood and teenage years, more important those you made as you move into your middle or later years. Don’t regret passing up personal or professional opportunities, for others will follow. Use your time on earth wisely; don’t waste it carrying the burdens of past guilt or personal grudges.
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As you grow older and accumulate more of life’s experiences, share your story with others, especially those younger than you. You will have a huge reservoir of untapped wisdom gained through life’s trials and tribulations. When taking on the role of a parent or later on, a grand parent, continue to share your insights and lessons you have learned throughout the cyclical ups and downs of your life. The generations following you will lose out if you choose to remain silent and keep your knowledge and history from them.

Keep Physically Healthy Your health is the most important possession, cherish it. URI Gerontologist Phil Clark once told me, “Use it or lose it. Stay as physically active as you can.” More over, “If you rest, you rust,” he says, noting that physical exercise elevates our mood and benefits your cardiovascular system, too.

The aging researcher also tells us that you “must also exercise your brain”. Simply put, make time in your busy day to read your newspapers, magazines and books, or play a challenging crossword puzzle, even chess.

Some graduating seniors will see their success tied to obtaining professional recognition, seeking to make far-reaching changes in the careers. Sometimes it is not the big things that you do that count, rather the simple daily acts of loving kindness you give to all those around you.

Research also tells us that volunteer work can be a protective buffer from the curve balls that life may throw at us as we age

Keep up and nurture your social contacts and personal connections with others. When you require help, don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends, or even professional colleagues for support and assistance. People will always go up the ladder of their careers, sometimes down, too. Take the opportunity to be there for not only people you know, but also strangers when they need a hand to jumpstart their faltering careers.

Simplicity is Key to a Good Life
Learn to slow down and enjoy the simple moments of your life. Nationally-acclaimed Author, Connie Goldman, states that the simple act of watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even puttering around your garden can be as stimulating as a jam-packed calendar of activities.

There are no sure bets in one’s life except death, taxes, and yes, growing old. So, Class 2013, make the most of your life that is just beginning to unfold before you. Embrace and appreciate your later years and go for the gusto. Enjoy your new journey.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging and health care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Great Futures Start at Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 24, 2013

Founded over 113 years ago, more than 100,000 youngsters have come through the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket (BGCP). The lives of these young children, most coming from blue-collar families, were shaped by the opportunity of daily contact with adult mentors. They also developed friendship and camaraderie with their young peers, all this giving them life lessons that would ultimately propel them into successful careers.

Learning Valuable Life Lessons.

Daniel Brito, 42, executive director of Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative, Inc., formerly from Pawtucket’s Woodlawn neighborhood, now living with his wife, Jane, a graphic designer, and 11-year-old daughter, Alivia in East Providence, remembers his younger days at the Pawtucket Club.

For over a decade, Brito, a nonprofit executive, oversees an agency that provides residential and community based supports to adolescent males ages 17-21. Currently his staff of 25 employees provide services to 20 clients, this funded by the State of Rhode Island, Department of Children Youth & Families. The young man has also worked in the fields of business development, project management, construction, customer service, social work, and even co-owned three Dunkin Donuts in Maryland.

In 1977, Brito, age 7, began his membership at the Pawtucket Club, including attending summer camp, with John his eleven year old brother. Brito, states his father, a merchant marine and mother, a worker at Monet Jewelry, enrolled their young boys at the BGCP to give them an opportunity to participate in supervised activities rather than just letting them play at the park or on the street.

Over the years, Brito’s involvement with the Club would evolve into becoming an employee for six years. He was named “Youth of The Year”, in 1988 and continues to assist as a judge in the annual youth of the year competition.

According to Brito, being a BGCP member for 15 years gave him the life skills to succeed in life. Personal attention from staff enhanced his self-esteem, even their constant encouragement to attend college along with their “real life advice” were key factors that pushed him into attending college, where he ultimately was awarded a Bachelor of Art Degree in Elementary Education from Rhode Island College. He is the first in his family to attend college.

Team sport activities, overseen by the late Mike Pappas, along with young Jim Hoyt and Peter Lavellee, even had an impact on his future management style, that is “the benefit of team work far out weighs the benefit of working as an individual.”

Being a BGCP Trustee and member of its Governance Committee and as well as a Board member of Cape Verdean American Community Development Agency, allows him to give back to the current BGCP members and to his cultural community.

Pushing Yourself, “Never Say Can’t”

As Brito, Kristin Lyons, 43, a licensed clinical social work with 20 years working in the Domestic Violence field, who serves as Executive Director of the Providence-based Women’s Center of Rhode Island, became involved with the BGCP at age 6, living at that time in Pawtucket’s Darlington neighborhood.

Lyons and her sister, Susan, would join the BGCP to learn the art of swimming at its East Avenue site. She would ultimately swim on its swim team, receiving awards and recognition, beginning at elementary school ending with her graduation at Tolman High School.

Being on the swim team taught the young child to understand the importance of being part of the team. “Obviously you improved yourself individually but you worked for the team,” she said. More over, she vividly remembers Hoyt, teaching her to never use the word “can’t.” This taught Lyons to push herself as far as she could and not give up. “A very good life lesson,” she says, noting that “You have to think you can do it if you want to succeed with your goals and work toward your dreams.”

“Being part of a community, being a member of the swim team family, and having adult role models around were important for me reaching my goals,” said Lyons. Her parents would both volunteer at swimming meets, her father being a judge and timer and her mother also timing, working concessions and helping with score keeping.

Lyons claims the BGCP taught her to work hard to achieve her goals, one being attending college. She would graduate from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 1993 and from Salem State College with a Master of Social Work in 2000. She was a member of the 2006 Leadership Rhode Island Class.

Now, serving as BGCP’s second vice president, after her service as a trustee and board member for six years, Lyons works tirelessly to ensure that the nonprofit group can meet the needs of future generations. .

A Life-Time Commitment

Seventy-three-year old, Philip A. Ayoub, owner of Pawtucket-based Ayoub Engineering, has very long ties with the Club, that is over 67 years.

The respected civil engineer, also a Pawtucket Hall of Fame and BGCP Hall of Fame inductee, became a BGCP member at age 6, along with his two brothers Naseem, age 7, and Edward, age 5. He remembered at the time he became a member in 1946, there was no emphasis on education, only vocational trades, such as printing and woodworking, and sports activities. The late Mike Pappas taught him to have respect for authority, to take responsibility for his actions, along with giving him an opportunity to participate in “honest [sports] competition.” He learned how to interact with “kids he did not know,” who came from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

Heeding his parents’ advice that “to have a good life you need an education,” Ayoub would receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

While his many awards he received at the BGCP are packed up, he has proudly hung in his office pictures of him being recognized as the Boy of the Year in 1953, and his BGCP Service to Youth Awards, from serving 20 plus years on the Board including being its President for two consecutive, three year terms.

Says Ayoub, “For me, my interest in the Club when I reached a level of professional success was to give something back. The more involved I became with the Club, the more inspired I became seeing young children developing into mature, responsible citizens.”

Thoughts from the Top Exec

Jim Hoyt, the BGCP’s long-time chief executive officer, sees a need for facility improvements to handle a growing membership. Over the last decade, membership has increased from 3,000 to 4,500. Not surprising, daily attendance has jumped, now hovering around 300 children, ages 5-18, coming to the Club daily. Ultimately, with the conclusion of a planned expansion, “we’ll have 500 to 600 kids attending each day after-school.”

Youth join the BGCP for help with homework and tutoring and for assurance from a staff of caring and nurturing youth development professionals. They participate in year-round recreation and sports activities. They enjoy a hot, nutritious meal at dinnertime. They take classes in art, theatre and dance. They learn to use computers. They receive career guidance and advice. They find friendship. They gain self-respect. In essence, they realize their full potential.

The Club is all about providing opportunities to kids, Hoyt says. “We want them to graduate from high school, be good people and contributing members of society, and to live healthy lives,” he remarks, noting that “Everything we do is aimed at these three outcomes.”

Hoyt says, over time, the BGCP has become a highly regarded, award-winning youth development organization with thriving, innovative enrichment and recreational programs and an ever-increasing daily enrollment.

BGCP is moving in the right direction, says Hoyt. “Our board is incredible! They are passionate, engaged, and outstanding examples of what a board should be. Close to half are former members of the Club,” he says.

And, Hoyt notes that his board is 150% behind the current expansion project, donating more than a half a million dollars to this project. “Their timely generosity helped us meet a $1 million challenge grant from The Champlin Foundations,” he says.

Hoyt is pleased that BGCP’s Capital Campaign is on target. “We are exactly where we hoped to be at this point – but we definitely have some work ahead of us as we look to break ground next year. We have raised close to $5.5 Million, with an ultimate goal of $8 Million: $7 Million will be for the Capital Project – with another $1 Million for program endowment to support the increased operations,” he remarks.

The planned expansion will build a Club that will allow the Pawtucket nonprofit to serve more kids, and to serve them better. A newly designed and enhanced Clubhouse will provide a new teen center and gym for teen members, centralized visual and performing arts spaces, better functionality in our pre-teen area which will reduce overcrowding in education, technology, at mealtime, and beyond – and allow for safer, more controlled access to the building.

Once the build out is completed, Hoyt expects to see the daily attendance to jump to around 600 members, with a primary goal of attracting more at-risk teens by doubling the space dedicated to them. Expanded daily service hours for each age group, combined with expanded space, will enhance programming for education and career preparation, the arts, and healthy lifestyles.

Hoyt expects to break ground in March of 2014. The summer will be spent renovating the interior of the existing building so that programming and services can begin again by September. The addition of the new Teen Center will be completed over the course of the Fall, with a ribbon cutting for the new facility in January of 2015.

Today, generations of BGCP members have joined, come and gone. But, positive experiences combined with being provided with the right tools to succeed, have given them a leg up to become successful in their professional careers, contributing to the betterment of society.

For membership and programming information visit http://www.bgcpawt.org or to learn more about the BGCP’s Building Better Futures Capital and Endowment Campaign, call the Club at 401-722-8840 to set up a tour.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Rhode Island Families Can Benefit from Expanding State’s TDI Program

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 17, 2013

In the 2012 legislative session, it was very easy for Pawtucket Rep. Elaine A. Coderre to say yes to Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, when the Providence lawmaker came looking for a House sponsor of S 2734. Perry’s legislative proposal would amend the State’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program to include coverage for caregivers who care for loved ones during a health care emergency or to take time off to bond with a child.

Years before, unexpectedly being pushed into the role of caregiver would bring Coderre to become the primary sponsor of H 7862, the companion bill to S 2734. To the disappointment of the Pawtucket lawmaker and her Senate colleague, their legislative proposal would be held for further study, effectively killing it.
Understanding a Caregivers Needs

In 1997, taking care of her dying mother became time-consuming for Coderre, a part-time lawmaker who served full-time as Executive Director of the Emergency Shelter of Pawtucket. Before the onset of the terminal illness, Coderre’s 78-year-old mother had lived independently on the second floor of her daughter’s three floor tenement.

With her elderly mother quickly losing her ability to live independently, being diagnosed with fourth stage Alzheimer’s disease and fourth stage colon cancer, the fifty-year old Coderre instantly became a very stressed caregiver

For over ten months, Coderre skillfully juggled the responsibilities of working two very challenging jobs, meeting family demands, and becoming the primary caregiver to her frail mother. To provide care seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Coderre would rely on her husband, three adult children, sister and her husband, to assist.

“It was a scheduling nightmare, remembered Coderre, referring to the complexity of making sure each family member was inked in the schedule and were notified when to report for duty. “We were committed to making my mother, in her final days, feel safe, secure and to have a quality of life,” she said, noting that her family did work well together, making the care giving schedule work

Looking back, Coderre considers herself extremely fortunate because she had her immediate family and was able to hire a homemaker, to provide more of the physical care, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Supporting Temporary Caregiver Insurance

But, Coderre realized from this experience and calls from constituents that not everyone has a large network of family and friends, or adequate finances to take care of a very sick loved one, even to know where to find caregiver support services. Becoming a care giver to a frail family member, an experience that many Rhode Islanders will face during their adult life, pushed Coderre to again become the primary sponsor of House legislation to create a Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program (TCIP), for the second time around.

During the 2013 legislative session, Coderre has joined Sen. Gayle Goldin, who represents areas in Providence’s Eastside, to reintroduce companion measures in the Rhode Island General Assembly (H 5889 and S 231) to create a TCIP. The legislative proposal, modified to address opponent concerns from the last session over the length of the benefit, would expand TDI to employees who must take time out of work to care for a family member or bond with a new child in their home.

If enacted, employees would be eligible to receive up to 8 weeks of replacement income while providing care for a seriously ill family member or new child. The law would provide employees with job security by allowing them to return to work when their caregiver responsibilities have concluded. The average weekly benefit for an employee would be $408.

Like Coderre, Goldin, a first-term Senator, had her own life experience as a caregiver. Over the years she, as a family advocate, she has also talked with many parents who told her of their own children’s health needs and financial and emotional stress it created and how important this program was for them.

“Paid family leave is a cost-effective way to give employees the time to balance family and work responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security,” said Goldin.

In the early 2000s, Goldin’s interest in research on TCIPs was piqued when the program was implemented in California. Last year, as a member of the Providence-based Women’s Fund of Rhode Island’s Policy Institute, she brought this knowledge to the table when working with seven women to get legislation introduced on Smith Hill.

At that time, out of five state’s nationwide that had TDI, like Rhode Island, identified two (California and New Jersey) allowed the program to be used by caregivers, not just those who are suffering the illness or injury themselves.

The research findings gathered from the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island’s Policy Institute would give ammunition to Sen. Perry and Coderre to push for the TDI program expansion in 2012. When Goldin took over Perry’s Senatorial seat when the long-time Providence Senator retired, she picked up the TDI cause, bringing Coderre back to the plate this legislative session, to assist her in the House.
Advocates Rally to Support

On April 11, eleven groups, including AARP Rhode
Island, the Senior Agenda coalition, Woman’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Economic Progress Institute, Rhode Island Kids Count, and the Rhode Island SEIU State Council, came before the House Finance Committee, to push for passage of H 5889.

Dr. Marcia Conè, Ph.D., CEO, of the Woman’s Fund of Rhode Island, told lawmakers that the TCIP is just an updated extension of the current TDI program that “best addresses the new health and lifestyle changes of today’s society, giving “everyone the flexibility of needed to balance the new realities of family and work responsibilities.”

To put the brakes to a “brain drain” out of the Ocean State, due to higher salaries available in bordering states, Dr. Conè stressed that H 5889 would offer what all employees need, time off to care of family business in a crisis. “The prestige of having the most family friendly work environment in New England is a very strong incentive for families to stay in the state to make Rhode Island their home,” she told the panel.

In her testimony, Executive Director Kate Brewster, of The Economic Progress Institute, stated that the state’s Parental and Family Medical Leave Act of 1987, and the Federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, give employees up to 13 weeks of “unpaid leave” to care for a family member or new child. “These laws protect employees’ jobs, but not their wages,” she said, observing that low-income Rhode Islanders can not afford to take unpaid time off from work, they need their wages.

Countering Brewster’s comments, submitted testimony by R. Kelly Sheridan, representing The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, warned that H 5889 would expand the State’s existing TDI program to allow employees time off to care for family members, when most states do not even have a TDI system. This expansion “would make Rhode Island’s business climate an outlier compared to our neighboring states and would send the wrong message to the business community regarding improving the business climate in our state,” he said.

While Matt Weldon, Assistant Director, of the State’s Department of Labor and Training, took no position on the TCIP legislative proposal, he came to answer questions. Weldon noted that there could be a .2 increase to the rate an employee is mandated to pay into TDI. Currently, the state program takes 1.2% of the first $61,400 out of an employee’s paycheck.

Maureen Maigret, Policy Consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island, told the House panel that nobody can predict when a family crisis will come, specifically “the critical illness of a child or spouse, an older person’s fall and subsequent need for care.”

Maigret estimated, for just pennies per week paid by workers – the cost of a cup of coffee — passage of H 5889, would allow workers to take temporary leave to deal with sudden critical family needs and still have some income.

With the Rhode Island General Assembly gearing up to finish the people’s legislative business by the middle of June, We Care for Rhode Island (WCRI), a grass roots coalition consisting of 32 organizations, including small business owners, workers, policy centers and family and health care advocates, was established at the end of April, to push for the passage of a Rhode Island TCIP.

Last Saturday, visiting local retail stores on Hope Street, Steve Gerencser, of WCRI, passed out literature, calling on owners to support his group’s attempts to create a TCIP in the Ocean State. “It can be a boon for businesses,” he says, citing a 2011 research study detailed on his Legislative Fact Sheet, supporting the passage of H 5889 and S 231. Gerencser notes that the findings estimate that program would save employers $89 million a year by improving employee retention and reducing turnover costs.

Goldin agrees with WCRI’s assessment a TCIP’s benefit to businesses. Moreover, she claims that there is really no impact on the State’s budget, to start up this new program. “It’s revenue-neutral and is solely funded by the employee, business owners and taxpayers do not contribute.”

With a negligible expense to implement, with no cost to the taxpayer or even the business community, it’s penny-wise and pound foolish for state lawmakers to not create a Temporary Care Giver Insurance Program, to financially assist Rhode Island employees when they take off time to help seriously ill family members or to care for newly adopted child.

Sound public policy, like this legislative proposal, can only send a clear message across the United States, that the Ocean State is finally taking steps to become more family-friendly, a great way to competitively attract large corporations and even smaller businesses into our borders.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Alzheimer’s Takes a Toll on Middle-Aged Adults, Too

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 10, 2013

While many view Alzheimer’s Dementia as a devastating disease afflicting persons well into their later retirement years, Jacob Vinton (“Jake”) knows better than that. The 57-year-old is one of an estimated 200,000 persons (out of five million Americans) who today have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Discovering the Truth

Jake’s physical deterioration derailed any plans to reenter the workforce, forcing him into early retirement. Because of his age, he will not be eligible for the full range of federal retirement and pension benefits that he could be eligible to receive if he waited to retire at age 65.

In his mid-50s, the middle-aged man experienced early signs of cognitive impairment that included memory loss, specifically not remembering conversations or previous events, or the names of people and things. As the disease progressed, Jake gave up his car keys.

In 2006, Jake, chose to became a stay-at-home father, taking care of his two teenage sons, while his wife, Karen, a clinical psychologist, became the family breadwinner, working as a public health researcher for a national nonprofit consulting firm.

Before making this decision, Jake, an electrical engineer who graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, had decided not to reenter the job market, or even to apply for graduate school. Looking back his wife believes that his declining “planning and organizational” skills played a key role in his decision.

Karen, 54, never attributed her husband’s occasional loss of words to be due to a very serious, devastating cognitive condition. Warning signs became obvious to her when Jake could not remember a conversation that had taken place 15 minutes earlier.

For Jake, a daily walk with the family’s rescue golden doodle, down a very familiar walking path, gave him a startling “wake up call,” that something was definitely wrong. He broke down, crying when he realized that he was lost and did not recognize his surrounding neighborhood. The emotionally distraught man would ultimately get home through the assistance of others in the neighborhood.

Being a professional researcher, Karen tiressley sought out answers to explain her husband’s cognitive decline through professional contacts in the medical field. After a year medical appointments that included multiple diagnostic tests (there is no one definitive test) by a neuropsychologist and a neurologist who specialized in Alzheimer’s disease, his wife’s worst fears were positively confirmed – Jake definitely had early onset Alzheimer’s Dementia.

Karen was not shocked by the medical findings. Alzheimer’s Dementia has limited pharmacological treatments that slow but do not stop the disease’s progression. Although Jake was not happy with his medical diagnosis, he strangely felt relieved now knowing the cause of his memory slips and why he was so “loopy,” as he put it.

Following the 2011 medical diagnosis, the Foxboro couple made a joint decision to relocate to the City of Providence. “Providence offered more medical and support services and also allowed him to walk to his volunteer activities and classes,” Karen said.

Loving Friends at Hamilton House

Jake also began taking Aricept and Namenda, prescription medications used to treat mild, moderate, even severe Alzheimer’s disease. Over time with adjustments to the dose, “it has made a big different in my thinking,” Jake remarked.

But, every morning has become time-consuming when Jake needs to be oriented to the days activities, reports his wife. “He can be told that he has an art class at Hamilton House but he’ll forget it,” she says, adding that even if you write that down he might just loose that piece of paper.

Even before his symptoms of Alzheimer’s intensified, Jake did a little carpentry and painting at Hamilton House, a center for active adults age 55 and over on Providence’s East Side, located very close to his home. Today, still does his maintenance chores, but attends art classes and other activities at the French Chateau-style home.

“I am just the kid here,” jokes Jake, noting that “everyone keeps an eye on me” during his three daily visits each week.

Director Jessica Haley, of Hamilton House, says that Jake is the only person with early onset Alzheimer’s among its 300 members. “He’s comfortable here because we’re not a senior center but an adult learning exchange,” she says.

“People love his sense of humor, and he just hugs everybody, says Haley.

When not at Hamilton House, Jake also spends time at the Eastside Mount Hope YMCA. “It’s like playtime,” he says, a place where he can lift weights and exercise. He also regularly attends Live & Learn, a weekly social engagement program held at this YMCA, run by the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter. This program is offered in five different locations through out (at the Woonsocket Harris Library).

But as the disease progresses, forgetting little details and names continues to frustrate Jake. As to coping, “He rolls with the punches and goes with the flow,” says his supportive wife, noting that “he really is an easygoing person.” However, Jake believes that his daily walking helps him to think more clearly. “I try to do the best I can, not wanting to be a burden on my wife and family,” he say.

So far he seems not to be a burden to anyone.

Finding Needed Support and Resources

Karen keeps tabs on her spouse, making sure he does not get lost when he walks their dog. “This has not happened in a long time,” he says. She also has taken over the household finances and has power of attorney over his legal issues. All of these changes took an enormous amount of time and effort.

She has turned to a very large network of friends who could help. “You should be not shy in asking for assistance when you need it,” she adds.

According to Annie Murphy, Outreach Coordinator for the Live & Learn Program, at the Alzheimer’s Association-RI Chapter, out of 24,000 people in the Ocean State with Alzheimer’s disease, there is about 900 diagnosed under the age 65.

Early intervention is extremely important for those afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s, says Annie, noting that a formal diagnosis can allow for earlier treatment.
“We know that medications approved to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are more effective if they are given in the earlier stages of the disease,” she says.

Once diagnosed, a person has an opportunity to participate in their future care planning, states Annie. “This gives them an opportunity to be able to learn what they are living with and to be able to personally manage this disease along with their care partners,” she adds.

A “healthy, active, lifestyle combined with proper nutrition and appropriate medication treatment” is important for those living with this disease, notes Annie. “It won’t slow down the progression, but improves the quality of life.”

The Alzheimers Association, Rhode Island Chapter, offers a new education series, “Living with Alzheimer’s,” geared to persons who are in their early stages of this disease and their care partners. The nonprofit’s website ( http://www.alz.org/ri/ ) also provides information about the debilitating Alzheimer’s and other related dementias, available resources, services and support groups, that are offered free to person with Alzheimer’s and their families.

In addition, she notes the offering of a new support group for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at her office in Providence.

Annie also notes that information related to the nonprofit’s annual caregiver’s conference at the Crown Plaza, in Warwick, on June 25, 2013, is also posted on the nonprofit group’s website. There is no registration fee and one of the workshops specifically addresses younger onset Alzheimer’s issues.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

E-cigarette Legislation to Get Make Over

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 3, 2013

Just weeks ago, health advocacy organizations found themselves in an awkward, uncomfortable situation at the Rhode Island General Assembly. Although they supported the stated intent of House and Senate bills (H 5876 and S 622) that blocked the sale of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) to minors, they were forced to oppose these legislative proposals because of troubling provisions they believe were embedded within these bills.

When introducing his Senate proposal, e-cigarettes, says Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio, are proof that not all technological advances are good things. This led the Senator, representing Providence and North Providence, to become the Senate’s lead sponsor. House Finance Committee Chair Helio Melo, whose legislative district covers East Providence, jumped in as prime sponsor in his chamber, because of his desire to get the debate started on this relatively new public health issue.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. According to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, consumers of e-cigarette products currently have no way of knowing whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits associated with using these products.

Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.

The FDA warns that more research needs to be done on the health risks of inhaling liquid nicotine, and has announced its intent to assert regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes.

New Technology in Smoking

Although the first patent on e-cigarettes was filed in 1963, the smoking device became readily available in the United States by 2007. E-cigarettes are electronic nicotine delivery systems. Often shaped like cigarettes or cigars, they deliver nicotine to a user in the form of vapor. E-cigarettes ordinarily consist of battery-operated heating elements and replaceable cartridges that contain nicotine or other substances, and an atomizer that, when heated, converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor that a user inhales. The nicotine in these products is derived from tobacco, but unlike cigarettes and cigars, there is no tobacco in e-cigarettes, and hence no smoke.

Ruggerio noted that his legislative proposal would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, along with expanding the statutory definition of “tobacco products” to include “tobacco-derived products” and “vapor products.” “Vapor products,” as included in these bills, would refer to any non-combustible tobacco-derived product containing nicotine, such as an electronic cigarette, that employs a mechanical heating element, battery or electronic circuit, regardless of shape or size that can be used to heat a liquid nicotine solution contained in a vapor cartridge. The term would not include any product regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

“Those who say these products are designed for adults who want to quit smoking real tobacco products are ignoring the fact they are marketed to be appealing to youngsters, offered in flavors such as bubblegum and chocolate,” observed Ruggerio. “Kids may see these as fun things, but as adults, we should know better and take action to keep our children safe.”

Health Advocates Rally to Oppose E-cigarette Proposal

At a first read, Director Karina Holyoak Wood, of the Rhode Island Tobacco Control Network (RITCN), saw the e-cigarette legislation proposal as positive step toward keeping the new smoking technology out of the hands of minors. However, once Wood, whose anti-smoking network includes 55 groups (including the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids), looked over the bills she found it embedded with provisions that could potentially undermine future regulation of e-cigarettes and create regulatory loopholes.

Wood and colleagues discovered that the e-cigarette bill was being promoted by RJ Reynolds, a major tobacco company. She believed that while the legislative sponsors’ intent was to prohibit youth access to e-cigarettes, a laudable goal, she feared that RJ Reynolds might be utilizing the bill as “a Trojan horse to establish their own business agenda for this emerging and currently unregulated smoking device.”

Suspicions were confirmed, says Wood, when a lobbyist from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company came to the Ocean State to support Ruggerio’s and Melo’s e-cigarette bills at the Senate and House Finance Committee hearings on April 9 and April 23, respectively. She also became aware that similar legislative proposals were popping up all over the country, with the Winston-Salem, North Carolina tobacco company lobbying for their passage.

Wood, and 17 health advocacy organizations gave the bills the thumbs down at both panel hearings, while the tobacco industry endorsed the measure wholeheartedly.

In her written statement, Dr. Patricia Nolan, former director for the RI Health Department, who now co-chairs the RITCN’s Policy Committee, warned the Senate Finance Committee members that the bill would define “a ‘new’ tobacco product and exempt it from some of the controls that currently apply to all tobacco products. She charged that it would define these products in ways that actually might undermine Rhode Island’s ability to effectively regulate and control them.

According to Nolan, the bill’s definition of tobacco products may not include all e-cigarette and vapor products, leading to confusion. The new products regulated by laws concerning indoor air pollution and worker safety, she charged. “The safety of e-cigarettes and vapor devices for users or for indoor air quality is not known,” she said.

With the State scrambling for tax revenue, S 622 and H 5876 are silent on the issue of taxation of the e-cigarette product. “Having the definition in the tax section of the law could facilitate either taxing or exempting these ‘new’ products,” she told the House panel.

Nolan also noted that the bills create obstacles to enforcing penalties against merchants which violate the Youth Access Law by eliminating the requirement for courts to maintain records of penalties and fines imposed for violations not requiring that the Division of Taxation be notified about the disposition of the violation.

Other opponents and critics included the RI Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Program, the City of Providence and East Providence Prevention Coalition, and several local retailers, including Barrington-based, Ecig Shed came and Cigotine, LLC, in Providence, who came to share their concerns, both owners threatening to leave the Ocean State if the measure was enacted. Melo’s e-cigarette bill would greatly reduce their sales by restricting online sales of nicotine-containing products by treating the smoking device the same as traditional tobacco products, noted the business owners..

Specifically, e-cigarette bills would require a retailer conducting an online sale to obtain a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license along with a statement from the buyer affirming that they are the person pictured. The purchased product must be sent through a service that checks the ID of the buyer at delivery. Retailers would be required to perform this check every time a consumer places an order.

Finally, e-cigarette retailers in Rhode Island would be required to obtain a tobacco license and only buy their e-cigarettes from licensed wholesalers or distributors.

At the hearing, Lobbyist Jack Hogan, of R.J. Reynolds’s Tobacco Company, noted that his company’s support of the General Assembly’s cigarette legislation, and proposals being considered by other state legislatures, was to keep tobacco, including e-cigarette products out of the hands of minors under age 18. In countering the concerns of the health advocates, “there is no hidden agenda [in supporting the e-cigarette legislation]. It is the right thing to do,” he said.

Voices Heard

With the effective mobilization of health advocacy organizations to oppose H 5678 at the April 23 House Finance Committee, Wood and some of her network partners and the Health Department would meet one week later with Melo to discuss their strong opposition to his e-cigarette bill. As a result, he offered to withdraw his bill for further study, effectively killing it. He invited the health advocates to work with him on a new bill, comprehensively defining e-cigarettes and vapor products and prohibiting their sale to minors, will be reintroduced next year, he says.

The saga of the e-cigarette legislative proposal is a good example that participating in the legislative process can go a long way especially for those who put the energy and effort into it. Sound testimony combined with bringing in your supporters to the table will most certainly get the attention of lawmakers. Yes, that’s Democracy in action.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.