Archive for January 2011

The Pack is Back

Drew Simonsen

Drew Simonsen

For those of you not up to date in the world of football, the Green Bay Packers have once again made it to the Super Bowl.  On Sunday, February 6th, the Packers will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Dallas for the Super Bowl trophy (and bragging rights).  On Sunday January 23rd, the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, while the Steelers defeated the New York Jets to become the champions of their respective divisions.

This will be the first time the Packers have made it to the Super Bowl since 1998.  Their last Super Bowl victory, however, was in 1997.  The Steelers’ last Super Bowl victory was in 2009.  So both teams are no strangers to being in the Super Bowl, or being Super Bowl champions.  The Packers will be walking into the Super Bowl with a season record of 10 wins and 6 losses, while the Steelers have a season record of 12 wins and 4 losses.  The win-loss record for the Green Bay Packers at the Super Bowl is 3-1, while the Steelers have a win-loss record of 6-1 at the Super Bowl.  But even with the records favoring the Steelers, the Packers are a 2 ½ point favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Although the win-loss record is in favor of the Steelers, the Packers do have advantages in their players.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the most passing yards this season, while James Starks, Greg Jennings, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields have outstanding performances in rushing yards, receiving yards, and interceptions, respectively.  Two other key performers on the Packers defense are Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews.  Charles Woodson is a 12 year veteran, leader, and big playmaker.  Matthews was among the leaders in sacks this year, and was named to the all-pro team.  Head Coach Mike McCarthy has done a great job for the Packers this season, despite all the injuries the team has had this year.  Can McCarthy lead the Packers to the end of an amazing season?  Can the Packers pull off the underdog victory over the Steelers?  We will all have to tune in on the 6th to find out.

The Green Bay Packers have supported NESCO for the past seven years by donating an autographed football every year for NESCO’s annual AppleFest Raffle.  We would like to wish the Packers the best of luck on Super Bowl Sunday.

Welcome to the Warner Park Senior Dining Site

Jim Krueger

Jim Krueger

Good volunteers can be hard to find. Great volunteers almost impossible, I repeat almost. In my three years overseeing the senior dining site at Warner Park (and Bashford until it closed) I have been amazed and honored to have such an outstanding group of volunteers. The names and faces have changed some during this time but the results have remained the same. Excellent! Come to visit our dining site today and you will be greeted by Bette or Dottie. Have a seat at one of the tables set up so nicely by Carolyn, Kathy or Rose. After you have been seated Delores, John, Polly or Ron will bring coffee to your table and greet you with some kind words and a smile. One or more of my wonderful volunteers will often start up a conversation with you so they can get to know you. At 11:30 am the above mentioned along with Marian and Provie will dish up a delicious meal and bring it to your seat. Each one of them going the extra mile to make your dining experience fun and enjoyable. As you leave they will bid you farewell and invite you to come again.  And then my volunteers do the dirty work. Duane, Kathleen, and Ron wash the dishes, the others (plus Martha) clean up and put things away and Jo and Helen help count the money. I thank them every day for their wonderful help but I thought I should also put it in writing. Thanks everybody, you are the best!

Pam Bracey and the Support Group: Diligently Helping Those With Diabetes

Pam Bracey

Pam Bracey

She has been called “the Christmas angel, for real!” and is admiringly described as a person that “relates well with everybody.”  Pam Bracey is an unsung hero that quietly and humbly works hard to help others, particularly people with diabetes and adults that are 55 years old and beyond. Officially, she is the  Cultural Diversity Specialist (African American Program) for the North/Eastside Senior Coalition (also known as NESCO), which is housed at Warner Park Community Center on Northport Drive. Her job title, however, doesn’t begin to tell the story of what she actually does and what she’s truly all about.
Bracey is an outreach guru of sorts, and she connects senior adults in the African American community with appropriate activities and services through the local senior coalitions and senior focal points in Dane County.  She coordinates health and wellness programs, identifies resources and services, and plans activities to help folks stay independent and engaged in their communities.
It was, in fact, at the South Madison Coalition of the Elderly that Bracey got her start working with older adults.  Through her pastor, Reverend David A. Smith, she began working with cultural diversity through the Faith in Action program.  After the  program ended when funding stopped, she assumed Naomi Carter’s position at NESCO.
When Bracey took over the position in 2006, the Madison Senior Center downtown was the site of the diabetes support group. It was held one time a month on a Wednesday, and other than she and her daughter, “no one else would show up.”  Perplexed, she wondered whether it was transportation issues, the time of the day or the day or the week, or just what was keeping people from participating.  She decided to change the meeting day to Thursday and moved the gathering to Romnes Apartments on West Olin Avenue.  “I just figured we had to come where they were,” she says, explaining how she switched the meetings to Romnes Apartments at 540 West Olin Avenue.
Slowly, through word of mouth and publicity in coalition newsletters and other venues, the diabetes group has grown and it continues to gain momentum. At the present time, approximately 11 to 15 people gather on the 4th Thursday of the month from 2 until 4 p.m. to talk about diabetes.  Ages range from folks in their 40s and 50s to individuals in their 70s, says Bracey, who also does programming and hosts a monthly discussion group at Quaker Housing apartments through NESCO.
About half of the people that currently attend the diabetes group are residents of the Romnes apartment complex. Transportation is available if it’s snowy, and usually the gathering includes a small healthy meal as well.  Most every session there is a speaker on some issue pertaining to diabetes, Bracey says, such as osteoporosis, taking care of your eyes, etc.  If a speaker cancels, which occasionally happens, “we just have a discussion amongst ourselves.” (She points out that they’re always looking for speakers to come in and provide information on diabetes topics.)
While the goal of the original program was to have a diabetes support group for African American seniors, the group is open to the public and welcomes people of all races and ethnicities.  At the December group (which was held earlier in the month than usual due to the holidays), of the 11 people that attended, two were Asian Americans and one was Caucasian.

It’s not a death sentence
Bracey talks with obvious delight about why she enjoys the diabetes group so much.
“I like that I can see that I’m helping the seniors with their diabetes,” she explains; talking about it helps reduce fear and helps people see diabetes “not as a death sentence, but as something they can live with.” Frequently, food is one of the subjects they focus on, she says, giving people practical tips on such things as how to eat more vegetables if you’re that not crazy about them, by adding them to casseroles.
“There are lots of ways to get around it, to eat healthy,” she attests, and also to exercise more, even moving your limbs while you’re watching TV.
“The group is small enough to be personal and there’s no going back and talking with other people about what’s going on in the group,” Bracey states.  People get a chance to speak, share their diabetes experience, and ask questions.
What advice does she offer to people with diabetes that have not yet attended the group?  “They can feel comfortable, they’re welcomed whenever they come,” she says to folks that might want to come and just check out the group. “If they have diabetes, this is a good group to be with.”
Koral Howard, who serves as program coordinator for South Madison Coalition of the Elderly, praises Bracey for her spirit and dedication. She recognizes how she really cares for the people she serves and has a unique way of relating to them.  “She puts a lot of effort into this (diabetes) group and they really look forward to it,” says Howard.
Bracey seems energized by the time and effort she invests in getting and keeping seniors in general active and social. Once monthly through the North/Eastside Coalition, she sets up a dinner-and-a-movie outing and transportation for folks living at Quaker Housing and other locations in Madison.
She reflects on the North/Eastside Coalition and the wealth of assistance it offers to older adults, marveling at all the benefits there are.  “I used to think, if you don’t ask, you won’t know,” she says.
Bracey points out the numerous resources available to people, everything from help with housing to helping them with snow in the winter and cutting their grass in the summer to helping them with junk mail, thanks to volunteers at the coalition.  Sometimes people think the question they have is a dumb question, she stresses, but it’s not.  Bracey, who admits she herself didn’t know about the senior coalitions until she got involved with the diabetes program, would like to see more seniors taking full advantage of what they have to offer.
She is also active with the Area Agency on Aging Caregivers Alliance, Safe Community Falls Task Force, Women’s Health Initiative, Faith in Action Advisory Board, and The YWCA Displaced Homemakers Advisory Board. In addition, she has  completed an AODA (alcohol and other drug abuse) course for special populations including older adults, has attended a Dementia Education Conference, and is a Certified QPR Gatekeeper Instructor for Suicide Prevention.
“She has extensive knowledge and a strong networking base within the African American senior community,” says Cheryl Batterman, executive director of NESCO.
On the homefront, Bracey has two teenagers at home that keep her busy; her son is presently enrolled in MATC and wants to move to California to pursue the field of media, and her daughter is a sophomore at Verona High School.  She also has a 25-year-old son who quite recently relocated to Madison after having lived on the West Coast.  In her spare time, Bracey enjoys doing crafts, and says her mother regularly teaches her some new craft to try.

Before vs. after diagnosis
Rather ironically, one year after starting to run the diabetes program, Bracey, whose mom and aunt both have diabetes, found out that she has it, too. So now in addition to being a Lay Health Advisor for African American Senior Women Living with Diabetes, she knows firsthand what it’s like to find out you have diabetes.
“My experience with diabetes has been where I started off taking insulin and (diabetes) pills,” she shares. “I’m not on either right now.” After doctors diagnosed her as having diabetes, she was on insulin, two shots a day for one year.  “I’m not a needle person and they told me I couldn’t leave the hospital until I learned how to give myself shots,” she says.
Bracey was determined to see if she could control her blood sugar without having to take medication, which is possible for some but by no means all people with diabetes.  She made what she refers to as drastic and serious changes in her diet (“I just had to learn my body — not what I wanted, but what my body needed”) and upped the exercise. Nowadays, she walks a lot, likes to swim, and drinks plenty of water.
She details how she felt in the days leading up to the diabetes diagnosis: “My energy level was down. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to make up my bed…I knew something was going on, but I didn’t connect it with diabetes.”
Earlier in the interview, she addressed the prevalence of diabetes in the African Americans. “I believe it’s because of what we eat, and then atmosphere, too.”
Many times, when people pass away, the explanation is they “died of sugar.” Bracey believes that “it’s not well understood what it [high blood sugar and diabetes] actually does to your body.”
How does she feel now that her blood sugar is under much better control? Bracey reports that she feels “95 percent better now. “

Helpful gab at the group
The date is December 16, and as people start to gather for the monthly diabetes group at Romnes Apartments, they greet each other with smiles, hugs, handshakes, and seemingly open minds and open hearts.  This writer introduces herself to one of the support group regulars, who’s in the process of decorating the community room,  and reveals the nature of this article. “If it weren’t for Pam, a  lot of us wouldn’t have holidays!” she exclaims.
The day’s speaker, Dory Blobner, and the pizza for participants arrive.  Blobner, a retired nurse who worked as a diabetes educator for Dean Medical Center for 30 years, will be the presenter. She’s a returning speaker who brings with her diabetes care kits for each person and a familiar diabetes board to spur on discussion.
One man remarks that he keeps hearing different things about what causes diabetes and that’s confusing. How do you get diabetes, he asks. Many times he hears that being overweight brings it on, but he himself is thin and so are others in the room, he observes.  (He later shares that in 2004, he found out he’s a diabetic. Immediately he thought, “Wow! What’s a diabetic?!”)
“I certainly understand your frustration,” states one of the people newer to the group. “What should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? I’m a thin person and I have diabetes…”
Diabetes has a very large genetic component, but it’s not 100 percent inherited, Blobner explains. Years ago, people may not have lived long enough for diabetes to show up.
Does diabetes skip a generation? The man who was diagnosed with diabetes about seven years ago asked for clarification on this point. “There’s no message in the genes that says skip (a generation),” responds Blobner. There are no skip generation rules, and you don’t  know who in a family will develop the disease.  For example, although two of her brothers  have diabetes, she herself does not.
Next, he raised the question, what triggers the gene? The number one thing is obesity, Blobner stresses. It’s not 100 percent triggered by weight, though, points out one of the participants.
For one of Blobner’s loved ones, diabetes was triggered by exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, a chemical that is a risk factor for diabetes.
“It’s just like rolling the dice. Sometimes you come up lucky, and sometimes you don’t.” She later elaborates about health: “Your genetics load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger” which ultimately brings on conditions like diabetes, asthma, cancer, etc. .

Feelings, food, sweet nothings…
The discussion moves into the area of emotions and their impact on diabetes. A lot of people stay in denial about their diabetes. They take a pill and think that’s it. One person said her neighbor went from what’s considered “pre-diabetic” to having full-blown diabetes within a year’s time.  For most people that find out they are pre-diabetic, Blobner says, the switchover is just a matter of time.
So what’s a person to do? The two most important actions you can take to reduce your risk of diabetes are to keep your weight down and keep physically active.  (Even though folks may be eating the same as their ancestors did, they’re much less physically active.)
Blobner allays a commonly held belief, that eating sugar is what causes diabetes. “Eating sugar will not kill off your pancreas if it’s working…,” she says. However, she points out, eating too much can wear out your pancreas, and sugary foods and/or soda pop can be part of those excess calories a person takes in.  (The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin, which is necessary for cells to properly use energy.)
“Sugared (soda) pop is one of the main reasons we have an obesity problem in the world,” laments Blobner. In fact, many kids drink six to eight cans of regular soda a day, which is a major source of calories and often causes obesity  while providing virtually no nutritional value.
One of the support group participants with diabetes shares how she fell ill as the result of skipping a meal.  Blobner clarifies that if you’re on diabetes medications that could cause your blood sugar to drop, you should have some regular (non-diet) soda on hand to use as emergency fuel.
The topic turns to a discussion of high blood sugar and why it’s important to avoid it.  High blood sugar tends to do damage over time, as the nerves in the body are essentially “not happy with high blood sugar,” Blobner states. When your blood sugar is over 200, you have a higher risk of infection.  If you blood sugar is high and you have a sore on your foot, for example, the sore’s more likely to become infected; and in turn, the infection will shoot the blood sugar up even higher.
One person inquires about the correct way to take baby aspirin.  If your doctor okays your taking low dose (81 milligram) aspirin,  Blobner advises, take the coated variety to reduce the chance of stomach irritation and take it with food and a whole glass of water to dilute it in your stomach.  She cautions that while aspirin is beneficial health-wise for many folks, it can be harmful to others so you should talk with your doctor first before taking aspirin.
One woman shares how she took home remedies “to extremes” for about three years before finally getting proper treatment for diabetes. “There are 40 plants proven to lower blood sugar,” Blobner says, “but none of them will repair a broken pancreas…” The woman also implores people to tell their doctors about what over-the-counter and other medications they are taking, since they may impact your  blood sugar.

Why the sugar high?
One of the women with diabetes asked why, when she eats sweets, she feels intoxicated afterwards.  It’s the high blood sugar, Blobner explains.
As the afternoon progressed, participants share their frustrations and challenges as well ways they’ve been able to manage their diabetes. One person says she has eliminated white rice from her diet, instead eating brown rice and also now eats more of other high fiber foods like more vegetables.  Blobner explains that fiber not only acts as a filler, “it slows down digestion so if you have a lazy pancreas, the carbohydrate doesn’t get into your bloodstream a quickly.”
Blobner review the plate guidelines for folks with diabetes.  At least half your plate should be vegetables, one-quarter of the plate or a portion the size of a small fist should be meat (or poultry or fish), and the remaining one-quarter should be starch (potato, sweet potato, corn, or noodles, etc. )  When it comes to eating, one participants says, “I think we’re going to have to discipline ourselves as African Americans.” Another factor to consider is that our plate sizes in America have gotten bigger over the years, too, the speaker points out.
As the formal discussion draws to a close, one participant reminds others in the room of the need to “take charge of our bodies.” She feels strongly that she has to take responsibility for her own body and her health. “I’m thankful,” she ends on a positive note. “I always look at things and think, it could be worse.”

The next diabetes support meeting takes place Thursday, January 27 at Romnes Apartments (2-4 p.m.) In addition to the African American Cultural Diversity Program, North/Eastside Senior Coalition also hosts a Latino Cultural Diversity Program.
For more information, call 243-5252 or visit

Written by Anita Martin, The Madison Times, December 31, 2010

Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly

Recognizing the Signs and Getting Help

Jason Lunder

Jason Lunder

The difficult changes that many elderly or older adults face—such as the death of a spouse or medical problems—can lead to depression, especially in those without a strong support system. But depression is not a normal or necessary part of aging. In fact, most seniors are satisfied with their lives despite the challenges of growing old.

Left alone, depression not only prevents older adults from enjoying life like they could be, it also takes a heavy toll on health. But if you learn how to spot the signs of depression and find effective ways to help, you or your loved ones can remain happy and vibrant throughout the golden years.

Loss is painful—whether a loss of independence, mobility, health, your long-time career, or someone you love. Grieving over these losses is normal, even if the feelings of sadness last for weeks or months. Losing all hope and joy, however, is not normal. It’s depression.

Although depression in the elderly is a common problem, only a small percentage get the help they need. There are many reasons depression in older adults is so often overlooked. Some assume seniors have good reason to be down or that depression is just part of aging. Elderly adults are often isolated, with few around to notice their distress. Physicians are more likely to ignore depression in older patients, concentrating instead on physical complaints. Finally, many depressed seniors are reluctant to talk about their feelings or ask for help.

The consequences of this oversight are high. Untreated depression poses serious risks for older adults, including illness, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, a higher mortality rate, and even suicide. So it’s important to watch for the warning signs and seek professional help when you recognize it. The good news is that with treatment and support, depressed seniors can feel better. No one, whether they’re 18 or 80, has to live with depression.

Causes of depression in the elderly

Many elderly adults face significant life changes and stressors that put them at risk for depression. Those at the highest risk include older adults with a personal or family history of depression, failing health, substance abuse problems, or inadequate social support.

Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in the elderly include:

  • Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
  • Reduced sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
  • Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
  • Medications – Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
  • Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
  • Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.

Signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly

Recognizing depression in the elderly starts with knowing the signs and symptoms. Depression red flags include:

  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
  • Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities, or leave home)
  • Weight loss; loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
  • Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing)
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts

Getting professional help for depression

While support and self-care can help depressed seniors, professional help should also be pursued. If you see the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself or an older relative, schedule an appointment with a doctor for a thorough evaluation, including a complete physical and lab workup. This is particularly important since many medical conditions, medications, and even certain physiological changes of aging can cause depression or compound the problem.

Information came from: