Navigating health care:  Senior Health Advocate Volunteer Program The Senior Health Advocate Volunteer (SHAV) program, which I have written about in past articles, has developed a trained volunteer advocate base that provides elders and their caregivers information and education about appropriate local community resources available to them to meet their needs and promote healthy, independent, active and safe lifestyles.  This activity meets the Reno Senior Citizen Advisory Committee strategic plan goals and objectives relating to eliminating information gaps for seniors and caregivers and improving access to senior-related information to improve health outcomes. In addition, the SHAV program works to identify and develop partnerships, health advocacy programs, and financial sponsorships to support senior services that promote healthy, independent, active and safe lifestyles as well as increase volunteer opportunities for education and advocacy by and for elders. It especially helps elders advocate for their own health and wellness as well as help their peers secure the appropriate and timely services and programs that are needed.

We have found through county and city strategic planning processes that not knowing what services are available, contact information, eligibility requirements, and costs are tremendous inhibitors of obtaining the appropriate services for seniors. Our goal is to empower elders with the tools, educate, and train elders and their caregivers about services available. When the services are not available, help develop alternative methods to make them available and affordable to meet their needs. In order to accomplish this we have built partnerships with community organizations to seek resources to meet the ever increasing senior service needs.

The dominate needs of elders in our community include developing untapped resources that can be mined for senior services such as a volunteer base that can provide for multiple needs. Such identified needs as transportation, socialization, healthy behaviors and activities, educating seniors about available resources, and expand programs, facilities, and personnel to meet those needs can be achieved through the SHAV program. The SHAV program advocates for enhanced services to meet the ever increasing needs of our growing senior population and educate them as to what currently exists. The SHAV enhances communication, educates the elder in need about the available senior resources, provides tools to determine service eligibility, and educational methods for improving health and wellness.

Senior Health Advocacy services promotes the health, dignity, rights and quality of life of seniors and disabled, services that make a difference in people’s lives. In previous Senior Spectrum articles I have introduced the Senior Health Advocate program that we now provide through AmeriCorps VISTA support. The services that are provided at no cost by trained volunteers (Senior Health Advocates) make a significant difference in people’s lives. This program is also supported by the City of Reno Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, Truckee Meadows Park Foundation, and the national AmeriCorps VISTA program.

An example of the SHAV impact comes from the lack of information by adult children who care for their aging parent and many elders themselves. They wished they had known about the many resources/services that are available in the community. It’s typical that people don’t seek out information about services until there is some crisis and something is needed.  Adult children caregivers become emotionally drained about what to do with mom or dad who are losing capacity when there simply aren’t funds to care for them when they have to work and can’t leave them alone. Some have lost time at work, especially when they can’t afford a professional caregiver or have other family or friends available to help. Our SHAV was able to steer them towards the Resource Brochure and discussed options like the Washoe County Senior Center’s daybreak daycare and other local volunteer companion programs such as the Senior Outreach Services or the local Seniors in Service program, which can provide some respite.  In other cases, family caregivers have made similar comments about not knowing there are resources for respite – some didn’t know that respite is “a break for the caregiver”.  They didn’t know that they could take mom or dad to an assisted living facility for a few days or a week, or have a caregiver for a period of time and, at no cost in many cases.  The Senior Health Advocate volunteer role is to help inform, educate, and empower to minimize cases like these.


Our SHAV’s help facilitate the elder to become aware of their overall health, needs, and available resources.  Programs of similar intent around the country have found that the initial assessment is usually completed in the elder’s home through several individual tools that the elders use themselves to determine what services are needed.  From the information gathered in the interview and use of the tools, recommendations of services can be made.  Each person’s service recommendations are unique and individualized.  Education and review of conditions and services is an ongoing process, so the SHAV’s can provide short term help to see the elder through a crisis or long term help by acting as an ongoing advocate for multiple issues.


The SHAV looks beyond the obvious needs of elders to become advocates for their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Whether one is faced with a new diagnosis, recent surgery or hospitalization, chronic health problem or a long-term illness, the advocate program can provide educated information about services and compassionate support. Communication is critical and ongoing.  The Senior Health Advocate will keep in contact with the elder, their caregiver, and the family and stay up to date on a regular and continual basis.  Communication is frequently provided by phone or in person.

The work the Senior Health Advocate Volunteer does is important to the health and well-being of the elders in our community.   So if you or you know someone that wants to volunteer in helping their peers, please refer them to me.  What better way to “add life to years”.

 Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

Good Communication: The How, What, and Why

One essential positive human interaction element is to create good communication. Good communication skills consist of verbal and non-verbal modes of transferring information to another person. In addition, active listening skills to absorb what others are communicating is an important part of good communication. One primary example of good communication skills involves not only hearing what another person has to say but also listening actively with verbal and nonverbal affirmations, such as head nods, verbal agreements, body posture, and direct eye contact.

Communication is an essential life skill for anyone and everyone. It’s one of the earliest survival skills we learn as growing children. As we grow and become fully functioning human beings, communication only increases in complexity and importance. We communicate in a lot of different ways and modalities:  person to person, via email, telephone, texting, Facebook, and other forms of group messaging on social media. At the end of this article, I display today’s worst disease with no cure in sight.

With countless audiences and vehicles to communicate and deliver your messages, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos and revert to easy, disorganized messaging. Just look at our President’s messaging, his ego dominates his communication style and many times it leaves us feeling more confused than informed. To clearly communicate your point and build trusting relationships, you need to ask how can I help?  This method of communication enhances one’s ability to connect with people and build long-lasting relationships. Obviously, you have to be authentic with your word and follow through, but offering help demonstrates that you care about people.

In addition, trust, dependability, and authenticity are important to good communication in all forms.  Good communicators are also frequent communicators, they keep communication open and don’t shut people out.  We have the ability to sense when people aren’t being true to themselves. It puts us off and gives us a strange feeling. When you’re genuine, people can tell. It puts others at ease and makes them more inclined to trust you which makes communication a lot easier. Good communicators don’t sacrifice their authenticity to impress others.

Another critical element of good communication is nonverbal and it relates to the intent of the message. Examples of intent are voluntary, intentional movements like hugging, shaking a hand, as well as involuntary, such as sweating. Nonverbal cues are heavily relied on to express communication and to interpret others’ communication and can replace or substitute verbal messages. However, non-verbal communication is ambiguous. When verbal messages contradict non-verbal messages, observation of non-verbal behavior is relied on to judge another’s attitudes and feelings, rather than assuming the truth of the verbal message alone.

Non-verbal communication plays a vital role in our messaging and is in every single communication act. To have total communication, all non-verbal channels such as the body, face, voice, appearance, touch, distance, timing, and other environmental forces must be engaged during face-to-face interaction. Written communication can also have non-verbal attributes. E-mails and web chats allow individuals the option to change text font colors, stationary, emotions, and putting in emotive faces or other pictures in order to capture non-verbal cues into a verbal text, but they are very limited.

Having effective good communication is imperative and in person, face to face, is the most valuable. We are able to look at the non-verbal body language. In order to have more effective communication we should not shy away from the person with whom you are speaking. We need to be sure to maintain a relaxed, but not slouching posture, regardless whether you are the one speaking or listening. Other things that ensure your body is communicating your attentiveness to the conversation can include:

  • Making eye contact;
  • Nodding occasionally to acknowledge a strong point in the conversation;
  • Standing with hands clasped in front of you, never crossing your arms;
  • Not displaying nervous ticks such as wringing hands, picking at your nails, or anything that the person communicating with you will view as a distraction from their conversation.
  • Being present and not distracted by surroundings, especially, your cell phone!

Being open and honest is important for good communication. Be sure to leave communication lines open to those who may need to address problems with you. You will find that you prevent the small issues that normally have the habit of becoming large ones by making those in your life aware that you are open to discussing issues at any time.

It is important to understand just how much of what you say and how you say it matters. Good communication skills have the potential to leave a lasting impact on others, let’s make that a positive one, what better way of ‘adding life to years’.

And . . . here are a couple of examples of today’s worst disease for our future with no cure in sight!





Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

Eldercare: A Family Caregiver Role

I have written a lot about eldercare, but it is so prevalent today, where the estimates are that about 50 million care for elders in the US and this number is growing phenomenally. We need to know what it entails, plan for it, and balance it with our other roles, while maintaining our own health.

According to AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving, the state of Nevada has more than one-half million informal caregivers, and the value of informal caregiving in Nevada is said to be roughly $4 billion annually. In addition, nearly half of family caregivers are caring for someone who lives in his or her own home, while an additional one-third are sharing a home with the loved one. Some are caring for a spouse or partner, many for a parent — all working to help that person stay at home for as long and as comfortably as possible. The caregiving role may be simply checking in on the elder to assisting them with everything from bathing and meal prep to medication management.

It’s important to think both short term tasks and needs and long term issues that require planning. You can not anticipate everything, but being forward-thinking now will help you respond more quickly and effectively in an emergency. We cannot do this caregiving role alone. Reach out to form a team of family, friends and others who can help you and the care recipient.

So, in forming a team what needs to be done. First, identify who can participate. Second, be open and honest with yourself. If you are uncomfortable with hands-on caregiving tasks, such as helping a loved one bathe, ask if another team member can step in. Or discuss whether there is money available to hire assistance. Really think about what you can and cannot do. Talk to the team members about tasks and find consensus. Third, communicate with the team members and determine what they’re willing to do to contribute to the care. Even if they live out of town, they can handle jobs like paying bills, ordering prescriptions and scheduling medical appointments. Fourth, work with the team on a plan, and if possible always include the care recipient. The plan needs to be agreed upon by all parties and if valuable, put in writing. Be aware that it will constantly change, so review the plan regularly.

Caregivers may need help with basic care.  The areas in which caregivers most frequently seek information include keeping their loved one safe at home, managing their own stress, identifying easy activities to do with care recipients, finding time for themselves, balancing work and family, talking to doctors and other healthcare professionals, making end-of life decisions, and managing challenging behaviors among many other areas. Many services in the community can help with obtaining information. For example, the Center for Healthy Aging collaborated with the Reno Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, Washoe County, Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, AmeriCorps VISTA, and No NV Building and Construction Trades Department to create the 2017 Reno, Sparks, Washoe County Elder Services Guides and Resources. This is one of many guides available. The important thing is to ask the questions and seek information, because there are many resources out there that can help with the care. One invaluable new resource available to Washoe County created by the Community Foundation of Western Nevada is the Washoe Caregivers Guidebook. Go to or call the Foundation for a printed copy.

In addition to becoming aware of the information and resources in the community to help with caregiving, there are specific fixes that can help with maintaining a safe home environment. Some basic, low-cost changes for home safety and fall prevention include removing trip hazards such as throw rugs, making sure the home is well lit (use automatic night-lights) and installing things like handrails, grab bars and adjustable shower seats. Lifeline has amazing technology to provide notice of falls, in the house or community, to provide peace of mind to the caregiver.

Those caregivers who have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s brings with it particular worries about safety and self-injury. Some preventive measures include installing remote door locks, using GPS devices, disabling the stove and lowering the water heater temperature to 120 F or less. Cognitive confusion can occur due to a variety of reasons. One such area is mis-management of medications. One preventive technique is to create and maintain an updated medication list, with the name, dosage, prescribing doctor and other relevant information to bring to medical appointments and hospitals. Lifeline also has a Personal Medication Dispenser that handles the complication of taking many medications. In addition, when I was at UNR’s Sanford Center for Aging, we established a medication review program that is staffed by a Certified Geriatric Pharmacist. Note that mis-management of medications account for many elder hospitalizations and deaths. Take advantage of this low to no cost medication therapy management program.

Historically hospitals have discharged Medicare patients more abruptly to cut costs, tasks once reserved for nurses are now often handed off to caregivers, who sometimes get little or no training or instruction. However, since 2015 NV legislative session, the CARE Act was passed mandating the hospital educates the caregiver on the discharge plan. Make sure you identify yourself as the caregiver and then demand that you be educated by the hospital when your loved one is being discharged. It is the law!

There are many more areas to cover with caregiving of elders that I will cover in future articles, but please be aware that caregiving can become all-consuming. You may find yourself playing nurse, coach, nutritionist and social director. All of these roles are important for maintaining your loved ones mental and physical health. Just don’t neglect your own well-being and other roles you play in your life. Make sure you establish boundaries. Especially if you and your spouse/partner are living with the person you’re caring for; it’s important that everyone has a level of privacy. Ideally there is some separation between living areas and you can manage some time together as a couple. Clearly caregiving can be all inclusive, but very rewarding. So make sure you take care of yourself so you can “add life to years”.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.