Health

Ruminations on the Golden Rule

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Most of us have heard some version of the golden rule, “so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” This code of conduct, while Biblically based, is also reflected in the texts of other world religions such as Judaism and Islam. It is a simple principle; if we love ourselves, then we have an internal guide as to how we should behave toward others.

It’s probably a good thing that the rule doesn’t lay out the criteria for when it is appropriate to treat people as we would like to be treated because some of us can act in ways that make it difficult for others to respect or love us. In spite of our shortcomings, we cling to the expectation that others deal with us with fairness, and yet we somehow fail to extend the same grace to others.

Take for instance our government’s current policy of separating children from parents who have been caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. For those of us who are parents, no matter where we stand on the immigration debate, there’s empathy to be felt for the trauma that those children must experience as they are taken away from the only security they know. Yet one-third of Americans polled felt the policy to be just and fair, and our government has cited Biblical support for its actions.

Another example is the recent Supreme Court decision that upheld a baker’s right to deny service to a gay couple based on his religious belief. While less traumatic than separating children from their parents, it still raises issues of equity and fairness.
In each of these examples, is the golden rule guiding these policies and decisions?

According to Roger Severino, the top civil rights official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “religious freedom is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect.” To this end, HHS has created the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom to protect doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who refuse to treat certain people because of moral or religious objections.

It doesn’t require much imagination to foresee how this policy might play out in our increasingly polarized society. For older adults who are members of the LGBT community, the possibility that they could be denied service based on religious freedom makes their later years more precarious. Unlike the general population of senior citizens, LGBT older people are less likely to have children or family to lean on during a crisis. It is vital that they have the same access to services, businesses, and programs that everyone else has. So, how might those of us who are Christian and follow a certain religious code reconcile our beliefs and actions when we encounter situations that violate that code?

The book of Matthew provides an answer. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” That’s what Jesus would do.

Vincent Tilford, Executive Director
Hannan Center

After-work Caregiving Means Working a Second Shift

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When an older loved one needs care, those who step in may find themselves balancing the demands of full-time jobs with the demands of providing that care. Whether it’s calling for a doctor’s appointment, stocking the fridge or paying the bills, being there for a person in need means adding work hours to an already busy day.

That’s why the Hannan Foundation created the Next Shift program – to assist full time employees who are also providing unpaid care to a family member, neighbor or friend. This free, confidential service helps full-time, employed caregivers secure support and resources for both their loved ones and themselves. But first, the person who is pitching in will need to recognize that providing such loving support defines them as a caregiver.

“Few people identify themselves as a caregiver. Many spouses, sons or daughters, siblings, or friends see what they do for loved ones as simply the right thing to do,” says Vincent Tilford, Hannan’s executive director. “Failing to reach out for help can add additional stress and greatly impact the health and well-being of the caregiver and of the care-recipient.”

In fact, research finds that caregivers who do not access supportive services are more likely to experience depression, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue – as well as challenges balancing work and home life with these added responsibilities.

Next Shift Services Include:

  • Navigating Medicaid/Medicare
  • Connecting to community resources such as food, transportation and healthcare
  • Assistance with long-term care planning
  • Legal Services/Family mediation
  • Educational Workshops/Support Groups
  • Consultations with licensed master social workers to develop personalized care plans

Next Shift program partners include the Alzheimer’s Association-Greater Michigan Chapter, Elder Law & Advocacy Center, and the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology. The program is funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

To learn more about this free service or to see if you qualify as a caregiver, call a Next Shift representative at: 313-833-1210, or email Stacey Molinaro at smolinaro@hannan.org. You can also visit the Next Shift website at: nextshiftdetroit.com

LGBTQ Ally and Aging Advocate

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You may ask just how a woman who identifies as straight, is married to a man, and has four children and five grandchildren becomes an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She says she got her heart for the gay and transsexual communities from her mother’s example of openness and support.

“When my cousin began transitioning from male to female, and sat my mother and me down to announce the news, my mom said, ‘I love you. I want you to be happy, whatever that is.’ That set a good example for me,” says Pat Baldwin, director of the Beyond U community of shared learning at the Hannan Center, as well as of the center’s Volunteer Services.

The Hannan Center operates programs to enhance the quality of life for Detroit’s seniors. Over the course of her 17 years spent working in aging services, hearing individual needs and observing gaps in services, Baldwin says she identified unmet needs for those in the LGBTQ community as they aged. In 2013 she founded the Detroit Elders Project which holds monthly presentations at Hannan Center on topics that affect LGBTQ elders.

“In many senior centers and places where seniors go for services there was no mention of the LGBTQ elder,” Baldwin says. “I wanted to change that.”

Baldwin says that while many young LGBTQ people are embraced and sup- ported by friends and family, LGBTQ elders grew up in a time when they may have lacked resources, advocates, employment rights and a sense of safety caused by reprisals against those who did come out.

The advocate says senior centers ignore LGBTQ elders but other settings can present more troubling treatment. In the long-term care system, a national survey by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging found, older adults were frequently mistreated by care-center staff, including cases of verbal and physical harassment, as well as refusal of basic services.

Working with legal advocates, Baldwin says, she also learned that there weren’t legal protections for LGBTQ elders.

For example, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination, among a list of categories of protected rights. But the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These advocates are awaiting the outcome of their recent testimony before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission as it considers issuing an interpretive statement to include LGBTQ protections in its list of enumerated rights. They also presented the Commissioners with a letter signed by 30 legal experts reiterating the importance of clarifying the law.

“This clarification is so necessary,” Baldwin says, citing a transgen- der person whose appointed legal guardian did not support their gender identity. The guardian withheld vitally needed hormones and other gender-affirming medical care, putting the transperson’s health and well-being at risk.

Baldwin is a board member of SAGE Metro-Detroit, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders. She says that, SAGE focuses on securing inclusive protections for the LGBTQ community and identifying welcoming housing, medical and social services, and business services.”

To learn more about LGBTQ ser- vices offered by the Hannan Cen- ter or by SAGE-Metro Detroit, visit or call: hannan.org 313.833-1300; or sagemetrodetroit.org 734.681.0854.

IS NOW A GOOD TIME?

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“Influenza Outbreak – Worst in 15 years!”  

“Children under Five and Senior Citizens are at Risk.”

Almost daily, news reports have blared scary headlines. They have us thinking, oh no you didn’t when a co-worker sneezes without covering her mouth and holding our breath as we dart from the room.

Although I no longer have toddlers in my house, I am nonetheless hyper-vigilant about bringing germs home. My mom who recently turned 90 years old does live with me, and the last thing I want to do is to infect her with this year’s bug. Following the Center for Disease Control recommendation, everyone in my family has received a flu shot, but like many older adults who look askance at the warnings, my mom didn’t bother with the vaccine.

After returning home from work recently, my older son stopped me at the door. “Dad,” he said, “Grandmother’s sick.” My concern rising, I dropped my backpack and headed to my mom’s room. She was sitting up, watching television with red, watery eyes.

“Hi, Mom. How are you feeling?” I asked in a neutral tone. While there are some older adults who have lost responsibility for their lives because they aren’t able to make health decisions or abdicated their authority because they believe that their adult children know what’s best, my mom isn’t one of them. She guards her independence with defensive, short statements followed by an impervious silence that dares anyone to challenge her wishes.

“I’m fine,” she said in a hoarse whisper, but still with enough edge to let me know to leave her alone. I pressed on.

“You don’t sound well,” I said. I stood there while seconds turned into days. As I listened to the crickets in my mind, I wondered, what now? Deciding to cross a line, I did something that I have never done with my mother. I placed the back of my hand against her forehead to check for a fever, just like she did with me when I was a child. She was hot. I asked whether she felt feverish, but of course, she said, “No.”

Needing proof, I got a digital thermometer and asked her to place it in her mouth. Surprisingly, she did without question. In the moments that I waited for it to beep, I considered my next steps. If it were high, I would take her to the emergency room. But if it weren’t, what would I do? She looked terrible. I was concerned about her contracting pneumonia, one of the complications that often kill young children and senior citizens alike.

The thermometer beeped. My mom didn’t have her glasses on. She couldn’t read the numbers, but I could – 102.7 degrees.

“I’m going to take you to the emergency room. Go ahead and get ready,” I said. I left my mother alone before she could give me a debate. However, when I returned, she showed me the thermometer reading again. Now it read, 93.3!

“Uh…that’s not a good number either,” I said. With a sigh, she conceded, and we were off to the hospital. I’d passed the first test – having the courage to discuss health issues with my mother.

For many adult children, it can be tough to step into the role of a care partner. Many of us don’t think or talk about what it means to provide support to an older loved one until a calamity forces us. Having uncomfortable discussions about advanced directives, finances, or physical and emotional needs means preparing for a day when your parent or loved one is no longer the person you remember. It’s acknowledging that loss may be closer than we would like.

For the care recipient, the big fear is relinquishing one’s independence. With each diagnosis or significant health incidence, an older adult’s world can shrink as the activity he has control over dwindles a little more. However, the alternative of waiting until a catastrophic health event comes with financial, emotional and physical risks that are far worse than the discomfort of having conversations before something awful happens.

When we arrived at the emergency room, the healthcare team at the hospital saw Mom immediately. Their focus, as it should have been, was on her and only referenced me when they asked her whether she wanted me in the room while they treated her. They took her vitals, asked questions, and Mom was ready with answers. She had her social security and insurance cards along with descriptions of her medications in a transparent, plastic covering. She readily answered the staff’s questions.

After running a test on a sample, they determined that she indeed had the flu. They gave her meds for the fever and any possible infections. A couple of hours later, we were on our way back home. And within a few days, her health was back to normal.

This incident was my first experience as a care partner for my mother. Fortunate for me, I fell into the shallow end of the pool.