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Safety At Home And Dealing With Grief And Loss

Usha Vakil

"Safety at Home and Dealing with Grief and Loss"
Usha Vakil


The Friends of Indian Senior Citizens Organization (FISCO) of Burlington MA held its seminar “Safety at Home and Dealing with Grief and Loss “ on September 6,  2022, at the Burlington Council of Aging. It was presented by  Burlington Fire Department and the Police Department, both our first line of defense. The event was geared  for seniors with emphasis on day-to-day safety and the role of clinician in the Police Department. More than 48 seniors attended in person, and a few joined on zoom platform.


Michael Peterson, Chief of Burlington Fire Department, gave an overview of the police department, its responsibilities and mandated training to serve the community. Karen DiRienzo, LICSW, collaborates with the police department to respond to mental health related incidents. She provides crises intervention and collaborates with community agencies to ensure individuals and families are aware of mental health resources.


Chief Peterson outlined Fire Department organizational structure and its emergency response system. The fire department  has four shifts with four captains. Each sift has three lieutenants and eleven firefighters. The emergency service has two ambulances, one paramedic and one at EMT level. It is a busy fire department with a town population of 26,753. In 2021 alone, the department responded to 4567 fire related incidents with over 3200 ambulance request and transported 2200 patients to hospitals.


Chief discussed specific safety measures for common yet preventable incidents like cooking, electrical fires, home fire safety for smokers and simple steps to prevent elderly falls. Incidentally, first day of Fall is also National Falls Prevention Awareness month.


Cooking fires are  number one cause of home fires and major cause of fire injuries. He recommended not to leave food, grease or oils cooking on the stove top unattended. Other recommendations were to wear short or tight-fitting clothing while cooking, keeping  potholders and paper bags away from heating elements and to keep the pot handles turned inward to prevent accidental spills. In case of grease fire, put lid on fire, turn heat off and throw baking soda. Do not put water or use  fire extinguisher on oil.


For people over 65, electrical fire is the leading cause of death and injuries. Overload of wall outlets can cause fire and one must plug heat generating appliances like electrical heater directly into wall outlet. Do not overload electrical power strips. He advised to charge laptops or phones on hard surfaces only. If one sees see sparks, hears buzzing sound, odor of a vague smell, call professional electrician and do not hesitate to call fire department.


Smoking is another number one cause of home fires and deaths across US. He cautioned against smoking in the bed and must dispose of cigarettes properly.


All home in Massachusetts  is required to have a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Test smoke detector once a month and replace alkaline batteries twice a year. Change of clocks in spring and autumn  can be earmarked as a best reminder to check for the batteries. Fire escape plans are important, there should be  two ways out of every room.


Fire department gets many calls when people fall. The Chief  emphasized caution for seniors especially while walking, taking showers and using stairs. To prevent falls, it is important to exercise, build muscles. Balance, flexibility, and coordination also lowers fall risk. Improved lighting inside outside the house prevents falls. Use of non-skid matts, rugs and shoes provides safety from falling as well.

He mentioned that September, first day of Fall, is Falls Prevention Awareness Week. Chief ended by asking residents to be careful and follow all the safety measures and guidelines.


Karen DiRienzo helps families with mental health issue and accompanies police officer on the emergency call if they detect that mental health provider is needed for home visit. She helps Domestic Violence survivors with resources in community as well. Karen elaborated on topics regarding mental health in an interactive format. 

She discussed grief and how it impacts the body and mind. The grief can be physical, mental, and emotional. Physical grief can cause a variety of effects on the body including increased inflammation, joint pain, headaches, digestive, cardiovascular problems, difficulty sleeping, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It can also lower your immunity, making you more susceptible to illness.

Mental and emotional grief can lead to depression, trouble sleeping, feelings of anger and bitterness, anxiety, loss of appetite, memory loss, confusion, an inability to concentrate or focus and release unexpected emotions.


Dealing with grief is a process, one must gradually learn to acknowledge, seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you. Learn to value yourself with kindness and respect and avoid self-criticism. Break up the monotony and support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically which can improve your mental health.


The effects of grief can often resemble depression. Grief is a person's emotional response to loss. Mourning is an outward expression of that grief, including cultural and religious customs surrounding the death. It is also the process of adapting to life after loss. There are five stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages reflect a  process change and protect us while we adapt to a new reality. While there are consistent elements within each stage, the process of grieving is different for everyone.

A complicated grief describes atypical feelings and responses that can be extremely intense and persistent. One can work through grief by talking about your feelings with others, social support, and  bereavement counseling. Karen outlined strategies for coping with grief which include grief support groups, community groups  and counseling and therapy


There are many signs and symptoms of both depression and anxiety, which can vary from person to person. Typical signs include feeling sad or hopeless, low energy, losing interest in activities, sleeping too much or too little, and feeling anxious or restless. Depression is a common condition, and many treatments are available that can help. You do not have to suffer in silence. There is help available.


Karen also touched based on the sensitive subject of older adults’ suicides which is a significant concern and increasing in numbers. She identified risk factors and warning signs like depression, feelings of hopelessness and lack of interest in future. It also includes feeling loss of independence or sense of purpose. Cognitive impairment, social isolation and medical conditions that significantly limit functioning or life expectancy is another major cause of adult suicide.

The preventive care can be interventions with depression screening, counseling for vulnerable older adults and community-based programs incorporating education, training, group activities, and referral for treatment.


September is a  Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and she hopes that the presentation will make the audience aware of grief, depression, and suicide.


The event was followed by the survey where audience had comments ranging from ”would like to know how to help people suffering from depression.’ Other comment was regarding ‘assisted death is good in case of terminal illness’

After the seminar, hot vegetarian meal was served. It was sponsored by Minuteman Senior Services and supplied by Zaika Restaurant of Woburn. A grant from Community Health Network Area (CHNA) 15 (Mini) supported this event.

Friends of Indian Senior Citizens is actively engaged in improving the mental health, nutrition, and good physical health of South Asian seniors. We invite you to visit “thefisco.org” for information about our programs. The next seminar, “Living accommodation options for seniors’ is scheduled for Tuesday November 8 from 10:30 – 11:30 AM at the Burlington Senior Center and on Zoom. A free hot Indian vegetarian lunch will be served.


Please come, join us for the hot vegetarian lunch on every Wednesday at Burlington Council on Aging and make new friends. Write to Raman Gandhi, President of FISCO for more information and to join FISCO: ram2005gandhi@yahoo.com or thefisco@gmail.com.





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