Habitat for Humanity is highlighting its aging in place efforts in its most recent newsletter The international organization best known for constructing houses for low income households says that one third of its efforts are now focused on aging in place through its home repair efforts for older persons who want to stay living where they are. The projects are locally driven and the newsletter says many local chapters of Habitat for Humanity are engaging in these efforts. There is no national requirement for each chapter to do so. Contact should be made with the local chapter to learn of their efforts to help older persons remain living in the community through home repair.
Meanwhile, forty persons turned out in the Albany County town of Bethlehem on May 24 for an informational session sponsored by the Albany Guardian Society to discuss the Village Movement. The Guardian Society is embarking on an effort to create a network of “Villages of the Capital District”to promote the movement that is spreading nationally for aging in place communities. There are currently several villages formed or forming in the Albany area including a newly formed Bethlehem Neighbors organization. Throughout the Town of Bethlehem which includes the well known communities of Delmar, Slingerlands and Glenmont there is interest among residents to develop aging in place communities such as the villages.
Another new entity is Livingston Village, in the City of Albany which is sponsored by Senior Services of Albany. It converted an old middle school into a senior apartment community. There is another village being developed in the West Hill neighborhood in Albany.
The Capital Area Council of Churches, New York StateWide Senior Action Council and Community Caregivers based in Guilderland are all interested in supporting villages in the region. Colonie Senior Service Centers is also working on aging in place efforts.
A long established NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) in southwest side of Albany is run by Jewish Family Services and funded by the New York State Office for the Aging.
Community Caregivers currently performs many of the functions of a village in several towns in Albany County. The organization provides transportation, friendly visits, re-assurance phone calls, chores and educational support meetings. I am working as a consultant for Community Caregivers and the organization is considering how to it can best support and be part of the village movement.
The Assembly Health Committee approved A10059, to allow aid in dying or physician assisted suicide in a 14-11 vote late Monday afternoon. We are waiting to get an official vote count but it seems that five Democrats may have voted against the bill and one Republican voted in favor with another Republican absent who was opposed. The bill now goes to the Assembly Codes Committee. It is unknown if the committee will move the bill. this year. The Codes Committee has been known as a committee that seeks to review all the law changes that will be required in each bill. So, that process may take longer that the few weeks left in the session.
On Monday, May 23, the Assembly Health Committee has scheduled a vote on the physician assisted suicide bill. Usually, bill sponsors bring a bill for a vote if they think they have the votes to pass it. The bill is A10059 and is a new bill combining two previous versions. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin is the sponsor along with Senator Diane Savino.
Private tallies show the vote to be very close, perhaps within a vote or two. At least three members of the 26 member committee are considered to be undecided. At least four Democrats on the committee are known to be opposed with one other feeling that the bill needs more study and review. One Republican, Janet Duprey, is a co-sponsor of the bill. She was recently added to the Health Committee. Even if the bill passes the committee, it is considered unlikely to be brought to the floor for a vote this year. Its floor chances are uncertain since many Hispanic and African American legislators are known to be opposed.
Disabled groups and the coalition opposed are upset that the bill is being voted on “off the floor.” As the session winds down, many of the committees do so, meeting outside the Assembly chamber. This process though is not as accessible or transparent. Sometimes the exact time and place of these meetings are quickly called with little chance for the public to know. There will likely be a lively debate.
The New York State Catholic Conference, New Yorkers for Constitutional Rights, the New York Hospice and Palliative Care Association, the Medical Society of the State of New York and the several disabled groups including Not Dead Yet are against the bill. The umbrella coalition opposing the bill is the Patients Rights Action Fund.
I believe the fact that this bill is being brought up so quickly just shows that the coalition support it and the bill sponsors are trying to show some progress in New York, the year after California passed the bill. They seem to be more interested in providing the suicide option than making sure that hospice and palliative care are fully utilized and promoted.
A New York woman, Susannah Jones, died last week at the age of 116. She was considered to be the oldest person living in the world. With her passing, a 116 year old woman in Italy is now the oldest person and she is thought to be the last person living who was born in the 19th century in 1899.
If geroscientists succeed, these two women living at their age would be common place sometime in this century. The New York Times ran another long article on Tuesday in its occasional series called, “Chasing Immortality.” The article discussed research by “geroscientists” – those who are studying aging and how to extend lifespan and longevity – that is moving ahead on dogs now following previous studies on mice. The article noted that Google started a company called Calico in 2013 to defeat aging. It also noted that “some scientists want the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recognize aging as a disease for which a drug can be marketed which they hope will draw more interest from pharmaceutical firms.”
The FDA recently gave approval for a drug trial for the diabetes drug Metformin to see if it can delay age-related diseases. The geroscientists believe that if they can focus on genes that cause the body to age and break down rather than just focus on specific diseases like cancer, they can help delay cancer and many other diseases for which aging is the leading risk factor.
Getting research dollars though is a problem in this field. Many people scoff at extending the lifespan, saying dying is inevitable. Others are adamantly opposed because of concerns about overpopulation. Others say it will be difficult to subject people to drug trials if they are not sick but just trying to see if certain drugs make them live longer. Some of the trials could have negative results for healthy people and they may have their lives cut short if the drug doesn’t work for them.
And then others like Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist don’t consider this research a high priority. He is quoted saying “It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer.”
The researchers though believe that humans and animals don’t all have to see their bodies break down and that the issue is about extending life which is already happening anyway with advances in certain drugs right now. They note that some animals live longer than others and the issue is about finding the biological factors that cause bodies to age.
It will be interesting to watch this unfolds. It may be too late for many of us before a significant drug is developed that can extend our lives by decades but even advances in some current drugs are keeping people alive who would have died just a decade ago. The most promising are cancer drugs which use a person’s immune system to fight the cancer cells. President Jimmy Carter may be the best known example. He was diagnosed with a usually terminal type of melanoma cancer. He was given a drug, keytruda, that used his immunity that has put his cancer into remission even at his age of 91. 40% of the people taking the drug are still living after three years.
The State Assembly passed of legislation last week to prohibit medicine price gouging, calling it “an unscrupulous business practice.” The bill was passed after cases of drug companies buying up old drugs in short supply and dramatically raising prices to the point of making them unaffordable. There have been news accounts involving vendors that have inflated the price of blood pressure medication from the normal price per dose of $25.90 to $1,200. Basically, the companies see a business opportunity to hold patients and the health care system hostage and now legislators are responding.
The bill passed 132-8. The eight Republicans voted against the bill are: Dipietro, Fitzpatrick, Friend, Katz, Lalor, Lawerence, Nojay, and Claudia Tenney who is running for Congress in Central New York. Republican Senator Andrew Lanza is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.
“These falsely inflated medicine prices are crippling the ability of hospitals and health care providers to deliver the quality of care that patients expect and deserve,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “This bill will give the attorney general the authority to crackdown on these abuses and stop these profiteers who are preying on the vulnerability of sick people.”
“Overpriced medicines have been burdening our health care system and hindering the treatment of very ill patients for too long,” said Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, sponsor of the bill. “The bill the Assembly passed will help restore fairness to the pricing of high-demand medicines and discourage nefarious pharmaceutical sales strategies that seek to make big bucks off the lives of sick people who are struggling to regain their health.”
The Assembly’s legislation (A.6731, Crespo) adds medicines, those that are publicly posted as drugs in short supply by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to the list of goods and services that can be subjected to the state’s price gouging laws, and it empowers the state’s Attorney General to prosecute cases involving illegally priced medicines.
This anti-medicine gouging bill also permits the courts to determine when the price for a drug in short supply is unreasonably excessive and establishes the criteria for making such determinations.
There are some prominent movies and books about older people that I thought I’d mention while we are enjoying the weekend. “Out of Ireland” is a documentary film about 30 centenarians of Irish heritage telling their story on camera. I saw the trailer for it. The movie is playing in Albany, Boston and New York, all cities with big Irish American populations. It is also a DVD which you can order. Here is a link to the documentary Facebook page
Of course, Maggie Smith is starring The Lady in the Van which has been running in the theaters and is now on pay per view. And, Sally Fields is starring in a comedy as an older woman in My Name is Doris.
Well known opinion author Michael Kinsley has a book in the top ten of the best sellers list called, Old Age, A Beginner’s Guide which is written for the Baby Boom Generation that is now entering the senior world en masse. The first Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are turning 70 this year. It seems not that long ago when they were saying we were turning 50 – but time marches on.
Of course, there are other books on end of life issues which are high on the bestsellers list including When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a young doctor who just completed his training and then died at 37 of lung cancer. And, Being Mortal, by Dr. Atul Gawande at Harvard is a book about the need to provide better quality of life for people with serious and terminal illnesses has been among the top best sellers in the past couple years.
Not in the same league – but, I wrote a book in 2003, Until the Last Breath about my great friend, Rose Kryzak who was the President of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council. It was about our senior advocacy efforts on prescription drugs, mandatory retirement and senior benefits in New York State and on national issues from 1972-2001. You can still order it from StateWide or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward it to StateWide.