My heart broke a little bit earlier this week

At the same time I was heartened, knowing we play a critical role in connecting our clients with needed care.

A volunteer called saying one of their people was extremely short of breath and was having difficulty speaking. Their “person” is a young 95 year old, legally blind, lives alone, doctors infrequently and has no family. Along with a formal Power of Attorney for finances, we are their only connection to the “outside world”. Six days a week we bring not just a meal, but also a conversation with a smile in our voices to this individual.

I called the client to check in and see how they were doing; not so good. They could barely talk – needing to take a breath after every 1-3 words. They were confused – when they’re usually very alert.

Initially, they were not interested in having us call 911. I asked them if they wanted us to call their doctor (they have difficulty seeing the buttons to dial out). They said they didn’t really have one. I asked where they usually went for medical care, and if I could call there. They replied “they wouldn’t know me.”

Their breathing remained shallow and labored. I could hear the anxiety in their voice and change in timbre. I could see their confusion in making a relatively simple decision – part of their mind knowing they should get help, but also uncertain if they “really” needed medical care.

I gently asked what they wanted to do to get help with their breathing. They replied “Well, I guess I should go see a doctor.” I quietly told them I was concerned about their difficulty breathing and that I thought it would be a good idea for the EMTs to come and help them get medical attention. They agreed.

I ended the conversation saying I was going to call 911 and would then call them back. With a sigh and crackle in their voice, they said “Oh, I’ve been such a fool…”

“More than a meal” could almost be our tagline.

  • Our volunteers let us know when things aren’t “normal” with their people and we follow-up with those concerns.
  • Small, handmade cards, placemats and other crafts from area school-aged children bring a bit of joy to someone who might be feeling a bit “blue”.
  • Volunteers encounter situations where their quick response ends up saving lives.
  • A birthday card and individual piece of cake (or sugar free candy) is sometimes the only recognition a client receives – not because of cultural or religious preferences, but because they have no one left.
  • It’s a brief visit, but we break down the walls of social isolation.

As I finish writing this, I’m saddened as I imagine what it must be like to grow old and to have out-lived family and friends; to be visually impaired to where I can’t even see the buttons on the phone; and to become so confused, when I’m normally very alert, I can’t make decisions for myself. But there is a silver lining: I know that because of Meals on Wheels, because of the care and concern our volunteers have for “their people”, this person received medical attention they might not otherwise have received. Medical attention that sometimes saves a life.

by Beth Adams
Director, Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels

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When to Make a Referral

It seems that we always get more referrals this time of year – the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year. We attribute it to younger family members seeing their aging parents or grandparents, and realizing their loved one could benefit from home delivered meals.

Mayo Clinic has a good article “Aging Parents: 7 warning signs of health problems” that provides useful suggestions and action steps for those who are starting to care for aging family members or friends. Below is a quick overview:

1. Are your aging parents taking care of themselves. We, including our volunteers, pay attention to our clients’ appearance – has there been a change in how they’re caring for themselves and their home? Is there heat? Is the yard overgrown? Are they able to clear snow/ice from their driveway and stairs to the house?

2. Are your aging parents experiencing memory loss? We all occasionally forget things. But there’s a difference between normal memory loss and that associated with types of dementia. Misplaced keys, glasses, and other items are “normal’. Getting lost in familiar neighborhoods is more concerning.

3. Are your aging parents safe in their home?

4. Are your aging parents safe on the road?

5. Have your aging parents lost weight? Weight loss can be attributed to difficulty cooking, loss of taste/smell or underlying health conditions such as depression, malnutrition, or cancer.

6. Are your aging parents in good spirits? What is their mood like? Have there been any changes? Depression and anxiety are not part of normal aging; they can be treated at any age.

7. Are your aging parents able to get around? Are they unsteady on their feet? Is it difficult for them to use stairs? Have they decreased their physical activity?

Programs like Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels can help if your loved one is having difficulty preparing meals due to physical and emotional health problems. The visit by the volunteer who delivers the meal also serves as a wellness or safety check. We contact you if there concerns and can make referrals for support services.

For more information about eligibility visit http://www.med.umich.edu/aamealsonwheels/mealmakereferal.html.

Winning Never Gets Old!

Where can you find a 100 year-old tennis champion, an 86 year-old pole vaulter, and a team of rough-and-tumble basketball grandmothers? On May 29, 2014, you can find them on the big screen at the Michigan Theater when the award-winning feature-length documentary Age of Champions is presented as part of a fundraiser to benefit local seniors. Age of Champions chronicles the triumphs and travails of athletes chasing gold at the National Senior Olympics. Described as “infectiously inspiring” by the Washington Post, this powerful film has inspired viewers across the country to be healthier, happier, and more active, and to understand that older adults are capable of incredible feats. It’s never too late to live life to its fullest! Producer Tad Ochwat will be at the event to introduce the film, share behind-the-scenes stories, and answer questions after the film. View the film trailer here.

Age of Champions Flyer

Let’s Celebrate Grandparents

This month we celebrate National Grandparents Day. This is a time to honor the older adults who have helped to shape our world. They are the memory keepers of our history. Many protected our country, labored for our economy, and contributed to technology and innovation. They also built our families, provided for our education and futures, and passed on our family traditions, recipes, photos and memories. They are a treasure of information and knowledge, and thus a generation worth treasuring.

This year, we celebrate grandparents as a nation on September 9th. But Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels provides an opportunity for you to celebrate them throughout the year with a population who is in desperate need of attention and care.

Many older adults are homebound due to illness, disabilities, or other age-related limitations. They may have children living hours away. Some may not have children or family at all. Yet they, too, have lived a life worth celebrating and remembering.

For many, the Ann Arbor MOW volunteers are like family. Not only do the volunteers deliver nutritious meals, but they provide the much needed human contact that our clients need for good quality of life. For many, the volunteers are the only people they see all day. During these brief visits, volunteers and clients can share a smile, a laugh, or a memory. Many clients proudly share pictures of their grandchildren who live far away, or tell stories about when their children were young. Volunteers who are parents often bring their children on deliveries. Many clients are delighted by visits from young children, which can truly brighten their day.

Volunteers also serve as the eyes and ears for family members who are unable to regularly check on their parents and grandparents. They make sure that their clients are feeling well. They look for signs of distress, such as poor hygiene, inability to keep up the home, or the client is unable to answer the door. If a volunteer has concerns, they immediately contact the home office where staff can take action, such as calling emergency services and/or contacting family.

As we take a moment on Grandparents Day to remember our loved ones and celebrate their contributions to our lives, also remember those older adults who may not have family available for celebration. Consider becoming a member of our volunteer team. Whether you make yourself available as an occasional substitute driver, or you take on a regular delivery schedule, any amount of time you donate can make a difference in someone’s life.

Delivery routes take 1-2 hours to complete. In that time, volunteers reach about 10-13 people. It doesn’t take long before volunteers get to know our clients and become a treasured part of their day. Please join us to celebrate and care for our older generation all year long.