Aging Report is “Rhode Map” for Change

Published on June 27, 2016 in Pawtucket Times

Next year look for the policy debate in the Rhode Island General Assembly to heat with Governor Dan McKee’s Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) release of a sixty page report in June documenting the sky rocketing growth of the state’s older population and identifying strategies to allow these individuals to age in place and stay in their communities.

The Aging in Community Subcommittee was mandated by the enactment of the Aging in Community Act of 2014, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mary Ellen Goodwin and Representatives Christopher Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton. The Subcommittee, chaired by Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, and former Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs, staff from Rhode Island College, Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, representatives from state agencies, members of the senior community, and senior service providers.

According to Maigret, it has taken almost 18 months to gather data, host focus groups and to write the “Aging in Community” report. The report provides demographic data snapshot on the state’s older population and also inventories current services and resources. It also identifies challenges faced by older Rhode Islanders and recommends strategies to promote successful aging in community in these nine issue areas.

Maigret believes that this report may take the most comprehensive look at what aging programs and services are available to assist older Rhode Islanders age in place in their communities and it identifies what programs and services are lacking. “The State Plan on Aging does have some data and actions planned but does not comprehensively cover all the domains covered in the “Aging in Community” report,” she says.

A Demographic Snap Shot

In 2010, the report notes that over 152,000 Rhode Islanders were age 65, predicting that this number will sky rocket to 247,000 in 2030. By 2025, Rhode Island will be considered to be a “Super Aging” state where 20 percent of its population will be over age 65. The report noted that two years ago the population of New Shoreham, Little Compton, North Smithfield, North Providence and Tiverton had already reached “Super Aging” status.

The report added that 42 percent of over age 65 household incomes amounted to less than $30,000. Only 49 percent of the retirees have non Social Security retirement income. Fifty two percent of the older renters and 39 percent of the home owners were financially burdened with covering housing costs. Poverty levels for older Rhode Islander vary, from 7 percent in Bristol County to 18 percent in Providence County.

The LTCCC report notes that even with lower incomes older Rhode Islanders have a major impact on the state’s economy. They bring in over $2.9 billion dollars from Social Security pensions and $281 million in taxes into the state’s economy. Older workers account for 33,750 jobs throughout all job sectors.

Rhode Island’s retirees provide an estimated $ 149 million by volunteering and an estimated $ 2 billion in providing caregiving services to family and friends.

A Spotlight on Priority Recommendations

The Subcommittee’s findings were the result of interviews held with aging service providers, an examination of age-friendly best practices in other states and ten focus groups conducted with older Rhode Islander from across the state.

The focus groups attendees gave the Subcommittee valuable information. They stressed that Senior Centers were “highly valued.” Many expressed financial concerns for their current situation and into the future. Attendees were very concerned about the lack of transportation and lack of affordable housing. State customer service employees were viewed by many as “unfriendly.”

Dozens of strategies were listed in the LTCCC report for state policy makers to consider to better assist older Rhode Islanders to successfully age in their community in these nine issue areas: Information and Communication, Community Engagement, Transportation, Economic Security, Food Security and Nutrition, Housing, Supports at Home, Healthcare Access and Open Spaces/Public Buildings

The LTCCC report identifies priority strategies including the restoring of senior center funding based on a population-based formula and continuing RIPTA’s no-fare bus pass program for low income seniors and persons with disabilities. It also calls for increase payments for homecare and for restoring state funding for Elder Respite.

Maigret says that creating a coalition of aging groups to “build an age-friendly Rhode Island” is the next step to take. Businesses can also become “age friendly” and better understand the economic value of older Rhode Islanders bring to the state and its educational institutions, she says.

Political Will Required to Implement LTCCC Report Strategies

There must be a political will to implement the strategies of the LTCCC report, says Maigret, starting with the state’s top elected official. “Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget had added $600,000 in funding for senior centers but the Rhode Island General Assembly removed it,” she said, noting that the decrease in funding got caught up in the negativity surrounding Community Service grants. “We were fortunate the 2017 budget will still have $400,000 in funding for senior centers,” she says.

“Rhode Island’s older adult population contributes a great deal socially, economically, and intellectually to our communities. Ensuring that those Rhode Islanders who desire to age-in-place are able to do so only enriches our society,” said Governor Raimondo. “I’m pleased that Director Fogarty, and members of his senior staff, serve and work with the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and the Subcommittee on Aging in Community. The insight they gain from service with these committees helps to shape State policy and programs related to services for seniors.

“I applaud the members of the Subcommittee for their dedication to creating a clear, comprehensive report on aging that can be a catalyst for change in our state. Their work recognizes that Rhode Island’s older population is growing dramatically and that we must direct public policy to help them remain active and in their homes,” said Lt. Governor McKee. I look forward to supporting the strategies detailed in the Subcommittee’s report to help build stronger, healthier communities for all Rhode Islanders.”

Finally, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, also says that the Subcommittee report’s recommendations will also be studied closely next legislative session. “I will be reviewing the findings of the report in greater detail and I will confer with Representatives Chris Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton, who sponsored and advocated for the Aging in Community Act of 2014. Our older population in Rhode Island is a growing one and it is important that we continue to listen to their needs and be responsive. I commend the work of the subcommittee, as well as all those who participated in the focus groups. I would anticipate that any policy and financial recommendations will be fully analyzed by the members of the General Assembly in the 2017 session.”

The LTCCC’s “Aging in Community” report gives our policy makers a road map in reconfiguring the state’s fragmented aging programs and services. With the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President on board, we might just see legislative changes in the next years that might just be what we need to keep people at home and active in their community. Lawmakers must not act penny-wise and pound foolish when considering legislative fixes.

Both the executive summary and the full Subcommittee “Aging in Community” report are available on the Lieutenant Governor’s website at: http://www.ltgov.ri.gov and the general assembly website at: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Pages/Reports.aspx.

Advertisements

Regular Folks Give Advice to Graduates

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 23, 2014

This month, commencement speakers at Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities will give the Class of 2014 their tips on how they can successfully find their professional niche, in a state with the distinction of having the worst employment rate in the nation and continues to be one of the last states to see an economic revival.  Rhode Islanders are also known for their inferiority complex and general attitude about the quality of life in the state.

Robed graduating seniors will sit listening closely to commencement speeches, given by very well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and Business CEOs, detailing their observations and advice, and how if closely followed, just might give the graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life.

 Typically a commencement speech (the length being about 10 minutes) is given by a notable, successful, stimulating figure well-known in the community, nationally or internationally. While some colleges and universities may enhance their prestige by bringing in high-profile speakers (University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University, and Providence College) sometimes at great cost, others like Brown University, unique among Ivy League institutions, features graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers. This year, Rhode Island College,
under graduate and graduate commencement speakers are Rhode Islanders.

So, I say to Presidents of Colleges and Universities, with your tight budgets you can save a little money by not bringing in high paid commencement speakers. As can be seen below, there are many potential    commencement speakers in local communities throughout the state who fly below the radar screen and can give college graduates sound strategies for success gleaned from their life experiences. They give road maps on how one can live a more healthy fulfilling life, mature in a way to realize their potential and age gracefully in a challenging and quickly changing world.

Jesse Nemerofsky, 60, Providence, Professional Commercial Photographer. “Always remember that everyone you meet in life can be a potential or future client. This being said, a positive introduction of yourself is a valuable way to be called to work together on projects, even to be hired for future jobs. George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, has stated in interviews that when he meets someone he gets their business card, and at birthdays, Christmas time, or when the person is honored, he sends them a personal note. By taking time to acknowledge people over the lifetime of his career, the former President is highly respected by those he has encountered, even if his political position or business venture was successful or not.   Honesty and representing your capabilities is of course of the utmost importance, and small gestures like sending a personal note can ultimately have great impact, but excellence in your work should be your main goal.”

Michael Cassidy, 66, Pawtucket, Retired. “As you go into the ‘real’ world from the sheltered ‘world of college’ don’t be too quick to judge the new people you meet in the work place.  People come in all types, sizes, shapes, temperaments, personalities, ages, and backgrounds; and they all have their own experiences from which you can learn. If you are smart enough to listen to what others have to offer, you can learn from them not only what to do, but what not to do. And most times learning what not to do is the most valuable lesson you can have.”

Olon Reeder, 55, North Providence, Reeder Associates Public Relations. “Become adaptable to constant changes in your life. Today’s global environment demands that you must become faster, better and smarter and compete with yourself and everyone else to survive socially. You have to embrace non-stop learning, empower yourself with your own resources, have an independent attitude and create value for who you really are and what you want to be to shape your quality of life for the future!”

Michelle Godin, 50, Vice President, New England Economic Development Services, Inc. “Live each day of your life with integrity. Whether in your personal life or professional life, integrity will define you as a person.  Never waiver.  When your days on earth are ended, it is your integrity that others will remember.   Those who live with integrity will be fondly remembered and missed, because with integrity comes many other admirable qualities such as compassion, empathy, tolerance, and understanding.  Those lacking integrity will be discussed with disdain and quickly forgotten.  Choose to become exemplary.”

Paul Audette, 85, Pawtucket, semi-retired businessman.The Youth of today — from puberty to whatever age one reaches maturity – tend to see life as it pertains to them, yet each person is responsible for him or herself.  While the youth may have the knowledge, they lack the life experience which is the main factor in making good sound judgments that ultimately affect (your) well-being as well as that of your loved ones. While experience cannot be taught, it cannot be overlooked as a major component in making sound decisions that affect your future.experience comes from living – and life is a journey.”

Joan Retsinas, 67, Providence, a writer. “Savor, savor, savor. Savor the sunshine, and the rain. Savor your friends, your family, your colleagues. Nurture the people close to you. Be a friend. Fall in love. If you fall out of love, fall in again. Read “Winnie the Pooh” to a child. Eat ice cream. Ride a bike. Swim in the ocean. Laugh. As for fame, fortune, and success, don’t fret. They don’t really matter.”

Rick Wahlberg, 61, Senior Project Manager, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. Be Useful, there is no feeling like making the world a better place. Be Aware, strike a balance between career, family, friends, and community. Be Grateful for what you have, don’t be jealous of what you don’t have, and share.

Wendy Jencks, 61, Cumberland, Visitor Center Manager, Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. “There may be a time in young people’s lives when they are nervous to take a risk, don’t be afraid to take a chance. If an opportunity/life experience arises and you want it, take it even if it is unconventional. You may not get another opportunity again. Also, a person’s first job is not the end all be all. Your dream job may actually be something you did not study. People confine themselves to their own walls.”

Larry Sullivan, 49, Pawtucket, Director, Net Compliance Solution’s technical & consulting services. “Recognize opportunity. If you can’t identify opportunities, then they are very likely to sneak past you unnoticed. Most people’s search criteria is so narrow in focus that it can essentially blind them to opportunities available right in front of their face. It’s the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario. Also, see yourself as a valuable asset. Your self-image will make a huge difference in the type of opportunities you attract to yourself. If you see yourself as a valuable asset, and you present yourself as such, others will see you that way as well.”

Denise Panichas, 50, Woonsocket, Executive Director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island. “Respect cannot be given when asked for, it has to be earned.” This is something you learn later in life. How do you earn respect from those around you? By being true to yourself – your values, beliefs and most importantly to your commitments to family, friends and the community.”

Ken McGill, 51, Pawtucket, Register of Voters, City of Pawtucket. “Find time to give back to your community. In the years to come you will be looking for a good job, getting married, having children and getting on with life. Never forget those in need in your community. Mentoring children, giving time to a soup kitchen, volunteering to help civic groups in your city or town or just helping a neighbor will give you more reward than any salary or position in the corporate world.“

Gail Solomon, 59, Pawtucket, Gail Solomon, Inc., a graphic design company. “You’re not the most unqualified or least knowledgeable person in the room. Everyone else thinks they are. And anyway it’s much more elegant to ask questions than to behave like you know all the answers. Because nobody does. Ever.”

Susan Sweet, 72, Rumford, former state administrator, non- profit lobbyist and advocate. “In the short space that we are in the world, we must create meaning in our lives by contributing to the happiness and well-being of other people and other sentient beings. To do good and useful work, caring and acting for the betterment of others is the true goal of life.”

Bob Billington, President of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council who received his Doctorate in Education from Johnson & Wales University in 2005, says that “Star Power Sells” when seeking out a commencement speaker. “We have regular people walking amongst us who do very extraordinary things everyday but they may never get a chance to give a commencement speech at a college or university,” he notes.

If so, I say that it’s a shame.

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

RIC Fundraiser and E-Book Released to Honor the Late Richard Walton

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 14, 2014

            As my co-editor, Rhode Island College (RIC) President Nancy Carriuolo will tell you that the late Richard Walton clearly understood the power of the emerging Internet and the power social media would wield in our daily lives.  The beloved social activist and educator who put tireless energy and effort into supporting many worthy causes began emailing and connecting to his family and vast network of friends electronically in the early 1990s.

             Over 20 years, he would literally write thousands of correspondences on a vast array of topics including serious social causes, baseball and boxing, politics and even entertaining observations about Rhode Islanders and local events.

 Honoring the Late Richard Walton

             According to Carriuolo, the late activists and educators love and active involvement in social media prompted the creation of our e-book, The Selected E-Mail Correspondences of Richard Walton, which offers his sampling of correspondence.  As co-editors of this tribute to Walton, we invite you to a RIC Foundation fundraiser, where we will unveil our e-book in his memory, from 2-3 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, at the RIC Student Union Ballroom, 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence. We will offer readings from this e-book. The suggested donation for the event is $10. Proceeds will be used to equip the English Department Conference Room, which will be named in Waltons honor.

             Last winter, Facebook notification of a memorial event held at Roots Cafe in Waltons honor brought Nancy Carriuolo and I together with hundreds of others shortly after Richard’s death to celebrate his extraordinary life.   We began to correspond via Facebook.  She sent me an e-essay that Richard had sent her about the Encyclopedia Britannica going out of print and wondering what would happen to his Encyclopedia Britannica when he passed. In return, I sent her an essay titled The great and good Hammerin’ Hank Tears for my Boyhood Baseball Hero, telling his love and admiration for the legendary baseball player, Hank Greenberg, and the tears he shed for a long dead baseball player.

             In our social media chats, Carriuolo admitted that she had saved some of Waltons emails.  Who could delete a correspondence with the subject line:  Do I Really Have to Wear Long Pants? which was written in response to her invitation to recognize Walton as a founding adjunct union president at my opening annual meeting of faculty, administrators, and staff, she remembers, telling me that  I just could not bear to delete any of his emails.  I shot back an email saying that I bet others had saved Richard’s emails, too, then asking her that maybe we should do an e-book?  That was the beginning of our editorial project.

             Waltons 91-page e-book is comprised of electronic correspondence shared by many of his friends and colleagues.  Being a brilliant writer and an observer of life, Walton covered topics as diverse as progressive issues on the topic of homelessness (spending Christmas at Amos House), the Rhode Island Governor’s race, national politics, education and womens rights.  He jumped into giving his two cents about the Lions Head, his favorite New York hangout, as well as boxing and baseball, and even his views on religion.

             In one of my favorite emails in our e-book, Walton shared his great admiration for the great first baseman, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers.  His love for this Jewish baseball player began as a small child when he grew up in Providence listening to the game on the radio with his grandfather during an era of rampant anti-Semitism and racism.  Even at the ripe old age of 72, the seasoned journalist wrote a powerful Op Ed in The Providence Journal about Greenberg after reading a four-star review of the movie, “The Live and Times of Hank Greenberg.”  He even admitted that he shed tears over “a long-dead baseball player,” this giving me a glimpse into how Walton as a young man would not accept the bigotry of his time and who would later turn his attention and tireless energy to fighting against society’s ignorance and indifference to the less fortunate.

 As to other e correspondences…

 ·       On his career choices: Walton admitted, I did turn down a job as an NBC News

correspondent because I refused to shave my beard.

 ·       On the fact that at age 79 he traveled to Shanghai to teach children, he quipped,

It might turn up in a game of Trivial Pursuit some day.

 ·       On his losing battle with leukemia, Walton noted, Im going on a great adventure.

 The Life and Times of Richard Walton

             With his prominent long white beard and his red bandana, decked out in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap, Walton, who passed in 2012 at the age of 84, was a well-known figure on the Rhode Island scene. In the early 80s, he ran as the Citizens Party vice presidential candidate. Later, he became an early member of the Green Party. At Rhode Island College, where he taught English for more than 25 years, he ran a successful campaign to unionize adjunct faculty, serving as the unions first president.  With his death, RIC President Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory. 

                        Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945.  After taking a two-year break from his studies at Brown University to serve as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelors degree in 1951.  He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia University School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

             Waltons training at Brown and Columbia propelled him into a writing career.  During his early years he worked as a reporter at The Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

             The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. foreign policy.  As a freelance writer in the late 1960s, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy.

                    A self-described peacenik, the journalist was known not only for his political views, but also for his charity and volunteer work with such fixtures as the Amos House homeless shelter, The George Wiley Center, grassroots agency that works to alleviate problems associated with poverty and the musical venue Stone Soup Coffeehouse. In fact, for many years he used his birthday party to host a highly regarded and well-attended annual fundraiser to support Rhode Islands homeless community.

             I know that throughout his life, Richard Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Islands voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made through sound arguments.

 E-Book Allows Us to Re-Experience Walton 

             While we can no longer see our friend, Richard Walton, in our daily travels, his essence, keen observations and thoughts about our wonderful world can be found in his e-writings.  As stated in my afterword in Waltons e-book, his emails will magically propel you into the distant past, when he stood among us, allowing us to easily remember our own philosophical banters and discussions with him, even giving us the opportunity to re-experiencing his sharp wit, humor and his humbleness.

             While so painful to admit that he is no longer here, his beautiful and thoughtful and provocative writings to his family and friends make him come alive once again to us.  Just close your eyes after you read the emails in our e-book.  I am sure you will once again feel his energy and essence.

             For more details about RICs reception to honor Walton or contribute to dedicate a room in his honor, contact Paul Brooks at (401) 456-8810. Donations should be made to the RIC Foundation with the notation:  Richard Walton.

            Herb Weiss, LRI 12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues and is co-editor of The Selected E-Mail Correspondences of Richard Walton.  He can be contacted at hweissri@aol.com.

Experts Offer Some Advice on How to Age Successfully

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 21, 2014

            As an aging baby boomer, the pains and aches of old age and my noticeable gray hair are obvious signs of getting closer to age 60.

            Amazing, being given a free donut with my large cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts, an AARP member benefit, is a clear reminder to me of how people may perceive my chronological age.  When I pulled out my wallet to get my membership card, the employee said, “Don’t worry, your covered.”  Simply put, by having gray hair it was obvious to the young woman that I was eligible to get the free donut.

            The aches and pains of getting older happen more often, too.   After spraining my ankle from a fall on a sheet of ice, while taking out my garbage, it took much longer for this injury to heal.  Most recently, a sharp pain in my hip makes me wonder if hip replacement surgery could be in my future.

            Even like me, President Barack Obama has shown his age by his gray hair and is even beginning to publicly complain about his aches and pains, because of living over five decades.

            The 52- year- old President told retired National Basketball Association star Charles Barkley in a recent interview that he was limiting his trip to the basketball court to once a month because “things happen.”

             “One is, you just get a little older and creakier. The second thing is, you’ve got to start thinking about elbows and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address,” said the 52-year-old president in the interview on the TNT network before the NBA All-Star Game.

             Discussing the aging process during an exchange about his signature healthcare reform law, Obama said that being past 50, “you wake up and something hurts and you don’t know exactly what happened, right?”

 Taking Control of the Aging Process

             Of course, President Obama’s complaints about getting old went viral. Approaching two Rhode Island gerontologists and a geriatric physician, this columnist gives the middle aged President tips on easing into his old age.

            Phillip G. Clark, ScD,  Director, URI Program in Gerontology and Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center and Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, notes that some research has indicated that the decade between 50 and 60 is when many people start getting “messages” that they are getting older. These can be physical, psychological, familial, and social.

             “A lot are based on the messages that they receive from those around them, including the media (“if you’re older than 50, you should be taking Centrum Silver, or you qualify for this special type of life insurance policy,” adds Clark. “These messages may not reflect an accurate picture of what normal aging really is, but rather a biased and stereotypical portrait,” he says, for example, supposed bodily reminders of aging, such as aches and pains, may be due more to lack of exercise rather than actual aging itself.

             To successfully age, “stay physically active” says Clark, suggesting that you get an assessment from your physician.  This helps both your body and your brain. A moderately brisk, 30-minute walk a day is all you need, he notes.  “It’s more important that you build physical activity into your daily routine and do something that you enjoy and can stick with, than spend a lot of money on a gym membership that you seldom use,” he says.  Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables is also important as part of a healthy lifestyle at any age.

             Clark also recommends that aging baby boomers stay engaged with settings and activities that keep them involved in life through their faith community, family and friends. Even having a sense of purpose in life that gets you outside of yourself, through volunteering, can help you age more gracefully, he adds, stressing that having a social network and people who care about and support you are essential elements of successful aging at any age.

             But don’t forget to “have a positive attitude and keep a sense of humor,” warns Clark. According to the gerontologist, this can get you over the challenges and hurdles you may encounter.  “Being resilient in the face of the challenges of life and getting older demands that we see the positive side of situations and not get bogged down in focusing on what we no longer have. We need to emphasize what we can do to keep the enjoyment in our lives.”

             Successful aging may not be swimming the English Channel at age 80, noted Brown University Professor of Medicine and of Health Services, Richard Bresdine, Director of Brown’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research and Director of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine.  However, for the general population, successful aging, that is “optimum physical cognitive functioning, rests on your genes, education and life experiences,” he says, not accomplishing great feats like swimming the English Channel.

            While the Brown University geriatrician agrees with Clark about the impact of exercise and social networks on improving your health and longevity, he also sees other ways to increase the quality of your aging.

 Strategies to an Improved Life Style

             According to Besdine, a majority of people with high blood pressure don’t take medication to control it.  This chronic condition can cause strokes.  Smoking does not just cause lung cancer, “but every type of cancer and chronic lung disease, “one of the worst ways to die on this planet.”

             Driving safely can increase your lifespan and quality of aging.  As one ages your eyesight may change, glare becomes a problem, and you lose flexibility to turn.  Retraining programs, offered by AARP and AAA, can reduce the probability of having an accident, says Besdine.

             Don’t forget your pneumonia or influenza vaccination, warns Besdine.  Having repeated occurrences of the flu can lead to heart disease and other health issues, he says.

             A good nutritional diet is key to enhancing the quality of health in your later years, notes Besdine, but people living on fixed incomes may not be able to afford eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats.  Cooking for yourself may even lead to a decision to not make nutritional meals.  Besdine is also a big advocate of the Mediterranean diet, a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.  He notes that this diet reduces your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes.

             Besdine also notes that there are simple things that you can do at home to increase your longevity and quality of life.  Make sure your home is safe, equipped with fire and carbon monoxide detectors.  Rid your kitchen of toxic substances.  He urges a “gun free” home. “This is not a political statement. Research shows us that a person is much more likely of being shot by a gun that is kept at home,” he says.

             Screening for cancers (by scheduling a mammogram and/or colonoscopy) and depression, along with moderate drinking, good oral health care, and preventing osteoporosis by taking calcium and Vitamin D, even reducing adverse drug reactions and improving mobility, are simple ways to increase the chances of your successful aging, Besdine says.

 Unraveling Research Findings

             Rachel Filinson, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology/Gerontology Coordinator at Rhode Island College, says the “devil may well be in the details,” as older persons try to unravel research findings that might provide them with a clear road maps to achieve successful aging.

             For instance, Filinson notes that while some gerontologist have long regarded “under nutrition,” that is the consuming relatively few calories to sustain oneself,” as a way to increase one’s longevity, others disagree with the theory.

             Meanwhile, mental stimulation is believed by many to deter cognitive decline, Filinson says, but brain teasers and games have not been adequately proven by research findings, she adds, while reading and writing may be helpful.

             Although a large social network and recreational pursuits have been lauded as essential to enhance the quality of aging, some investigations have found that solitary activities like gardening are just as effective, observes Filinson.

             In that science can be a work in progress, Filinson believes that older adults can take charge of their lives by optimizing the positives and minimizing the negatives–how we age.  “It’s about the choices we make in life rather than the genes we were born with,” she quips.

             President Obama might well listen to Clarke, Besdine, and Filinson’s sage advice as to how he can cope with the aging process. Even small changes in his daily,  mundane routines, like using the stairs rather than taking an elevator in the White House or even taking Bo, the first family’s dog, for a brief walk around the grounds, can result in his living longer, even reduce his noticeable aches and pains.

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

Activist Richard J. Walton’s Great Adventure in Life and Death

Published January 4, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Throughout his 84 years, Richard J. Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Island’s voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made by making sound arguments. With his last breath, he even taught us how to face death.

Walton, age 84, died on December 27 at Rhode Island Hospital. He had been treated for leukemia for about six months, says daughter, Cathy Walton Barnard, of Simsbury, Connecticut, who noted his last words, “I’m going on a great adventure.”

Walton Touched Many Lives

Even with many in Walton’s vast progressive and activist networks knowing about his illness, people were caught off guard by his sudden passing one week ago, stated Rick Wahlberg, a computer consultant and a former president of Stone Soup Coffee House, who worked closely with Walton on the nonprofit’s Board of Directors for over 20 years and developed close personal ties. “We considered him part of our family just like many others did,” he said. .

According to Wahlberg, a Cumberland resident, Walton was part of New York’s intelligentsia scene, [mingling with writers at the Lion’s Head, a bar a few steps down from Christopher Street] in Greenwich Village, where he lived making a living as a writer.

Wahlberg viewed Walton as a “great example of morality, humanity and a supporter of nonviolence,” noting that his friend led an amazing life that help shaped his progressive point of view and that of his two daughters. When his oldest daughter, Corinne, heard of Walton’s passing, she remarked, “he did more in one lifetime than most.”

Over the years, Wahlberg, 59, and his wife, Barbara, attended Walton’s birthday parties that would raise large sums of money for his favorite charities, attracting the state’s powerful political and media elite right to his family compound, located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick. This legendary fundraising event occurred from 1988 to 2011, bringing hundreds of people each year to celebrate his progressive causes. Due to his health in 2012, for the first time, Walton’s birthday was held at the Roots Cultural Center in Providence.

Joyce Katzberg, 59, folksinger and a founding organizer of Stone Soup Coffee House, spent decades protesting with Walton at vigils, rallies and picket lines. She remembers him as a kind, honest person. When necessary, he was not afraid of using the “F word,” she quipped, noting that this word stood for fascism. His social advocacy “has left many ripples and impacted many Rhode Island nonprofits,” she adds.

“Richard called things for what they were, said things in ways that were hard to argue with because he had the facts, knew the background stories and did his home work. He cared enough to tell the truth,” said Katzberg, stressing how he excelled at moderating views between people with differing positions.

Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks), a co-author of Phillip and Jorge column in the weekly Providence Phoenix, who knew Walton for over 30 years as a social activist, educator and a strong advocate for traditional American Folk music, had his thoughts about his recent passing. “There is no doubt in my mind that Rhode Island would have been a much different and poorer place without his constant presence. He was a mentor to generations of students and social activists and one of the strongest voices for peace and equality that Rhode Island has ever known,” he said.

McCrae, 62, says his efforts for social change extended internationally to Africa where, in 1960, he worked on a number of documentary films on the emerging independence movements on that continent and to Latin America, where he started the Sister Cities Project between Providence and Niquinohomo, Nicaragua, helping to build a medical facility and school there.

One of the City of Pawtucket’s most visible social advocates, Maggi Burns Rogers, remembers Walton as someone who worked hard to improve the world without forgetting how to enjoy it. “He loved to laugh, eat, drink, was an avid gardener, knew his music, read literature and even traveled the world.” (In between his social activism, teaching and writing, during his long life Walton traveled to over 50 countries, making return trips to many of them.),

“Richard won’t be remembered for just one thing because he brought his talent to so many different nonprofits,” says Rogers, including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Stone Soup Coffee House, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the Pawtucket Arts Festival Executive Committee to name just a few.

With his long white beard, President Betsy Florin, of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, viewed Walton as a Santa Claus-like figure. But unlike Santa, he gave every day of the year, all of his life, she said. “His real gift was not something tangible that could be wrapped in a pretty box and placed under a tree, it was, rather a gift of imagination combined with activism.”

Walton “imagined a world of decency and fairness and then sought to make that happen,” said Florin.

As to Walton’s daughter, Barnard, 52, even in her earliest childhood memories she remembers her father as being an activist, who once marched with his young daughter at a gay pride parade. While not being an activist to “his degree” the Preschool teacher is very politically active in her local community.

Today, Barnard is a diehard New York Mets fan. When Barnard and her brother visited their father in New York, he often took them to watch the team play at Shea Stadium. (As noted in an Op Ed penned by Walton in 2000, throughout his life Walton’s favorite baseball player and hero was Hank Greenberg, a Jewish baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily for the Detroit Tigers. He was considered to be one of the premier power hitters of his generation. Walton noted that Greenberg, who experienced anti Semitism, would encourage another player subject to slurs from the sidelines, that was Jackie Robinson.)

Six Lifetimes Jammed into One

Walton’s life is richly detailed in Wikipedia, a web-based free content encyclopedia.

Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945. After taking a two year break from his studies at Brown University, serving as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

Walton’s training at Brown University and the School of Journalism at Columbia propelled him into a writing career. During his early years he worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton would initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. Foreign policy. In the late 1960s, as a freelance writer, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy. He was also the former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s personal editor for his memoir, “The View from the United Nations.”

In 1981, after 26 years of living outside of Rhode Island, he would return, ultimately becoming one of the most recognizable social activists around, fighting against hunger, homelessness and poverty. The journalist would run for political office and was active in the Citizens Party [the predecessor to the Green Party]. He ran as the political group’s vice presidential candidate in 1984 with the radical feminist Sonia Johnson. They did not win.

For over 25 years, Walton has taught writing to thousands of students at Rhode Island College (RIC). Walton fought to successfully establish a union at this university, hammering out a contract, ultimately serving as its first president until his death. With his death, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory.

Walton was married to Margaret Hilton and Mary Una Jones, both marriages ending in divorce. He is survived by his daughter Cathy Walton Barnard and son Richard Walton and three grandchildren.

Big Shoes to Fill

Walton, with his long white hair and beard, wearing his trademark blue overalls, bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap, serves as a role model to the younger generations of social activists, those who will take up his worthy causes to fight for justice, to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He taught us how to live life to the fullest, exploring the world while not forgetting to help those in need.

Walton’s life turned out to be a grand adventure. But even with death approaching he taught us to take that leap of faith into the unknown, recognizing that death, too, can be and even grander adventure.

The family is planning a memorial service to be held the first weekend in June.

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