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A toolkit to help seniors live well, plan well and 'Age with Dignity'

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 26. 2017 8:46PM
Rod Wendt of the United Valley Interfaith Project explains a new program called “Useful Tools for Aging with Dignity” at a recent forum on aging held by the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley at the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon. 

The United Valley Interfaith Project has taken on some big issues — from securing buses to connect Claremont to the Upper Valley, to getting jobs back for employees at the West Lebanon JCPenney displaced by Hurricane Irene, to fighting off predatory paycheck loan businesses from coming to New Hampshire.

There was one common thread that kept coming up as they continued their work and one they knew they had to start addressing.

“Everything that we were working on, seniors kept bubbling up,” said Rod Wendt, president emeritus of the interfaith project.

The Upper Valley region of New Hampshire has one of the oldest populations in a state with one of the oldest populations in the country, according to U.S. Census figures.

Wendt said the group representing 15 religious groups in the Upper Valley spent three years talking to 400 seniors to hear their stories, see their needs and find ways to help. As part of its work, they are now offering a free toolkit and curriculum to help get seniors talking about self-advocacy, living and dying, and advanced care planning.

“We’re offering this to the world as a tool for helping with their seniors,” Wendt said.

Called “Useful Tools for Aging with Dignity,” the project offers free training to facilitators along with a curriculum aimed at getting seniors thinking about everything from who feeds the pets if one is taken to the hospital to setting seasonal goals for getting out of the house.

It suggests facilitators hold five 90-minute sessions for eight to 16 seniors, caregivers and other family members.

The curriculum includes simple checklists to record such important information as medications, bank accounts, computer passwords, and vehicle maintenance records. There’s a section dedicated to advanced care directives that includes an intensive packet of information from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center called “Honoring Care Decisions” with forms on naming a health agent, living wills, and a checklist of which life-saving measures you want or don’t want.

There are more personal pieces to the program which include resources to help seniors have difficult conversations with family members about end-of-life wishes.

A section called “seasonal living” focuses on setting goals each season to live more and beat isolationism. It asks the senior to write down their answers to questions like “What random acts of kindness can I do,” “Who can I have fun with during the spring,” and “How do I make the most of the longer days and warming weather?”

“It’s a guided away of talking about issues that would be difficult to talk about with family,” said Alice Ely, executive director of the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley which is helping with the project. “The magic in this is seniors in groups sharing with one another about how these issues are impacting them.”

The group did a pilot test with the curriculum in Lebanon and in Cornish. Wendt said one group added another section on planning one’s own memorial.

“It’s evolving. It’s a starting place and we expect more will be added,” he said.

Jan Lord of the group Aging in Place in Cornish tested the program with 16 seniors, many of whom did not know each other. She said the program not only got people talking about these issues, it helped many of the participants build new friendships.

“It normalized talking about important things,” Lord said.

For more information on the project, contact Judy Croitoru at (603)398-4557 or email her at

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at or (603) 206-7739. See more at

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