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Aging With Dignity: Course Helps Seniors Plan

  • For Carolin Basset, of Lebanon, N.H., aging with dignity means staying as independent as possible and being with family and friends often. Bassett, a retired nurse, participated in a course offered by the United Valley Interfaith Project that offers spiritual and practical guidance on aging. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Carolin Bassett, of Lebanon, N.H., shows pictures from her wedding album from over 40 years ago at her home on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. Bassett, a retired nurse, participated in a course offered by the United Valley Interfaith Project to offer guidance on aging. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Pauline McNulty, middle, has lunch with fellow volunteers Eunie Guyre, left, and Helen Bisson all of Lebanon, N.H., at the Upper Valley Senior Center on Nov, 11, 2016 in Lebanon. Before serving lunch the volunteers sit down to eat. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2016 10:00:07 PM
Modified: 11/15/2016 10:58:54 AM

Pauline McNulty’s hobbies once included quilting, sewing, knitting and crocheting, but all that changed 18 years ago when her eyesight degraded to such a degree that her doctors declared her legally blind.

Now 82, McNulty, a Lebanon resident, has found other hobbies that demand less of her eyes, such as exercise classes at the Upper Valley Senior Center on Campbell Street, walking, listening to books on tape and dancing around her house to “good Irish music.”

“I decided to take some lemons and make some lemonade,” McNulty said. “I find that with 18 years of being legally blind, I’m still able to do a lot of the things I love.”

McNulty spoke from a seat in the midst of a group of 10 of her peers at the senior center one day in October. The group was just starting a course titled “Tools and Tips for Aging with Dignity,” offered by the United Valley Interfaith Project, a nonprofit focused on bringing together people of diverse faiths to address social issues such as aging and economic justice.

The new four-week course aims to help seniors organize documents for themselves and caregivers, stay active and connected to friends and family and develop a plan for end-of-life care.

As more and more residents of both Vermont and New Hampshire reach their senior years — demographers estimated that by the early 2030s, almost one-third of Granite Staters and nearly one-quarter of Vermonters are expected to be over 65 — they are seeking ways to stay happy and healthy as they age, as McNulty has, and to plan for the inevitable end.

The seniors enrolled in the course said they were there because they were seeking tips to help them remain independent and active for as long as possible. They mentioned challenges they face, such as financial constraints and physical ailments.

Steve Teeter, 75, lives in downtown Lebanon, just a couple of blocks from the senior center, but said he isn’t sure how long he can remain there because his wife may soon retire and they might not be able to afford their taxes when they are living on a fixed income. He’s also recovering from blood clots in his leg that have made it difficult to walk.

For Edith Wheeler, 90, maintaining her ability to drive a car is very important. She was in a fender-bender in the parking lot at Lebanon Towers, the senior living complex where she lives, and the other driver questioned whether Wheeler should continue to drive.

Since the incident, Wheeler has practiced backing into her spot daily so she now does it with ease, she said.

“My family thinks I shouldn’t drive anymore, but they’re not going to tell me what to do either,” she said. “I’m kind of feisty.”

Carolin Bassett, 83, a widow and retired registered nurse, said she finds comfort and support in her faith community.

“I very much like people and so I go to church almost every Sunday,” Bassett said. “I think that we all can really be cared for and protected by our church family. At least that’s the way it is in my church.”

This is the first time the United Valley Interfaith Project has offered the course, which was created by seniors for seniors. Subsequent sessions included discussion of a checklist of information necessary for end-of-life planning, ranging from basic contact information to a Do Not Resuscitate order, health and health insurance information, home management details, wills and financial information.

A third session outlined how participants might go about developing a quarterly activity plan based on the seasons. Such a plan would include answering questions such as “Who should I call? Who should I see? Who can I have fun with?” said the leader of the first session Rod Wendt, the Interfaith Project’s board president.

The last session of the course, which ended on Tuesday, was guided by staff from Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Honoring Care Decisions program and focused on end-of-life planning. The final session encouraged participants to identify what is most important in their lives; what things, if they were no longer able to do them, would make their lives less full? Such conversations help people to prepare an advance directive, a written description of a person’s wishes for their medical care.

Wendt said he hopes participants will help to improve the course for the future.

Early next year, the interfaith project plans to offer the course in two more pilot settings — to a faith community at the Meriden Congregational Church and to a community aging-in-place volunteer group, possibly in Cornish.

Speaking for a small group of course participants who discussed the questions “What are my hopes about preparing the end-of-life documents that I need to have in place? What are my fears?” West Lebanon resident Billi Gifford, 72, said pulling together documents and making a plan could help give seniors peace of mind and let family members know what they want their care to look like.

Gifford’s group said they feared procrastination could impede their efforts to prepare for their final years and leave them anxious, she said. They also feared that their wishes might not be carried out and that their needs as they age could put an undue burden on family members and loved ones, she said.

“My husband died suddenly (and) everything in my life changed,” Gifford said. “It left me in a very precarious situation.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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