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Daily Acts of Self-Care Can Ease Caregiving Stress

Light exercise, breathing techniques, even smiling can improve overall wellness

by Lee Woodruff, AARP, June 15, 2021 | Comments: 2

A few weeks after my husband was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and was lying in a coma with a head injury at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, I received a massage gift certificate from a girlfriend. The prospect of someone kneading my cement-like muscles was appealing. But the thought of leaving the hospital to do something for myself made me anxious. What if Bob woke up from his coma while I was gone? What if he was looking for me and I was at a spa? It felt wrong to be enjoying something so much when the person I loved most was lying in pain with half his skull removed. The whole experience felt self-indulgent.

My sister finally pushed me out the door, and I spent the entire hour worried about Bob, intermittently weeping at the kindness of this stranger’s touch. I remember wearing my wedding ring on a chain and telling the massage therapist that I absolutely couldn’t take it off, certain that that would jinx Bob’s recovery.


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Reduce stress, increase wellness

Most caregivers I know have a complicated relationship with self-care. We keep a polite smile on when someone (usually not actively caregiving) tells us, “Make sure you take care of yourself, too!” Sure. Of course. Easier said than done.

So how do you find ways to incorporate very specific actions and physical wellness into your day when so much of these activities revolve around someone else? I asked my own massage therapist and health guru, Michele Cappellano, of Pocono Pines, Pennsylvania, to share exercises and other actions that all caregivers can follow to reduce stress and promote overall wellness, especially if it is more difficult to get out of the house.

“The first thing you have to do is be realistic with yourself when it comes to taking good physical care,” Cappellano advises. “If you set the goals too high, you will only be discouraged.”

Cappellano suggests thinking about what skills you already have in your wheelhouse and what kinds of activities you will be most likely to follow through with. You also need to convince yourself that you deserve the care (as I was unable to do during that massage) and be aware that this act will take effort.

PHOTO CREDIT: STEFAN RADTKE

Lee Woodruff

If there are any topics you would like me to address or standout caregivers I should know about, email me your thoughts to ShareWithUs@aarp.org.

Though every caregiving situation is different, during the months after my husband returned home from the ICU, the early mornings were sacred for me. If I could get a tiny slice of time before everyone woke up, I felt like I had a bit of a leg up on the day. That precious me time was often the small difference between a decent day and one in which I felt continually under water. I set the alarm daily to give me that critical buffer. Sometimes it was as simple as drinking my coffee alone and reading emails. Other times, I would take a walk as the sun rose. When I could, I’d make up for exhaustion during the day with a cat nap or even just closing my eyes on the couch.

The magic of morning

Cappellano also believes in the importance of jump-starting the day with a morning routine. Here are a couple of her suggestions.

  • If possible, wake up 20 minutes before you start your day and carve this time out solely for you — whether you use it for journaling, reading the news, meditating or doing something more active, like stretching.
  • Get your coffee, tea or hot lemon water started. Hydration after a night’s sleep is key. Lemon water is also good for vitamin C, or opt for a sugarless electrolyte (they come in many flavors).

Include your loved one in self-care

Self-care doesn’t have to exclude the person you’re looking after. “Ask yourself how you might execute some of these self-care routines together,” Capellano says. “The next step is to make a plan.” She recommends the following few tweaks that can help change your outlook on the day and improve your well-being.

  • Do some simple stretches, touching toes, bending over with the back of a chair. You can even stretch in the bathtub when your muscles are warmed up. An elastic stretch band is a good way to extend your reach.
  • Music makes us all happier and gets our toes tapping. Do some small dance steps in the house to your favorite song, or grab your partner for some ballroom dancing, which brings up your heart rate in a healthy way.
  • Take a seven-minute Epsom-salt bath. It really does relax you.
  • Set up a diffuser with orange, lemon or your favorite scent. Elevating your sense of smell can lift your spirits.
  • Lie on the floor and invert your legs against the wall for 10 minutes. If possible, put a bolster or pillow under your back to open your chest area and relax your shoulders.
  • When watching TV or working on the computer, put a tennis ball under your hamstring or behind your shoulder blades.
  • Turn off the news after an hour and watch something you love that is educational or funny, or read a book.

Physical de-stressors

Cappellano offers some simple ways you can physically decrease stress and tension without leaving the house.

  • A kinesiology technique called emotional stress release can be done anywhere to relieve pain, headaches and clear out systems in the head and intestines. There are two points on our forehead on the prominences that, when lightly held with three fingers of each hand, can have a calming effect. Gently press on these points and breathe; this will open your mind up to receptive, rather than protective, responses.
  • Another quick move to calm and relax is to locate the fleshy depression just beyond where the thumb and forefinger meet in the V shape. Firmly press your other thumb and forefinger into that flesh and release.

Use your breath

Breath brings oxygen into the body, and there is much science around the benefits of breathing exercise for wellness. Positional therapist Nancy McLoughlin, of Tarrytown, New York, teaches clients to use breathing to find calm.

  • Slowly inhale to the count of 4, and then exhale slowly to 4. Continue this pattern and see if you can stretch the time longer. “This begins to calm the nervous system even after only three repetitions,” McLoughlin explains.
  • Breath of Fire is a yoga move that can reduce anxiety and stress. Lie in bed and put two fingers against one nostril and your thumb on the other. Block off one nostril and breathe in deeply. Then close that nostril and breathe out through the other. Continue alternating.
  • McLoughlin also reminds us that the simple act of smiling, using those small muscles to lift the face, can connect to the neurology of the nervous system and play a role in mood. It’s the old “fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophy,” she says. “If you can’t find something to smile about, then smile at yourself in the mirror until you get used to the feeling.”

“No matter where you are in life, every action you take has a compound effect on your long-term health overall. Small steps make for long-lasting changes,” Cappellano says.

Lee Woodruff is a caregiver, speaker and author. She and her husband, Bob, cofounded the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which assists injured service members and their families. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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What Is Mindfulness? And Why It Might Make You Happier

Focusing on the present moment can help you quiet anxiety and find perspective

by Kim Painter, AARP, May 26, 2021

En español | When psychiatrist Judson Brewer, M.D., wants to help a patient stop smoking, one of the first things he does is ask the smoker to give his or her full attention to smoking a cigarette, focusing on how it tastes, smells and feels right then.

“Not one of them has come back and said that they enjoyed smoking,” says Brewer, who is director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center in Providence, R.I., and author of a new book, Unwinding Anxiety. Noticing that smoking is actually unpleasant can be the first step to quitting — and it’s a prime example of how mindful living can change your life, Brewer says.

That ability to focus fully on the present is what experts like Brewer mean when they discuss mindfulness. While the concept can be confusing to many people, Brewer says that his favorite definition, coined by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, is that mindfulness is “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness is “the awareness of the unfolding moment-to-moment experience,” says psychotherapist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.

It’s “being in the here and now, without having a story about it,” says neuroscientist Amishi Jha, an associate professor at the University of Miami and author of the upcoming book Peak Mind.

To be more mindful, these experts say, means lifting our minds out of their default mode, in which we are constantly ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or otherwise out of touch with what is happening right now. We spend about half our time in that mind-wandering mode, research suggests.

When we pay attention, in the present, we can do more of what we want, Jha says. Attention is the “cognitive fuel” we need to make better decisions, regulate our emotions and connect with others, she says.

When we are mindful, we are kinder to ourselves and to others, Brach says: “I have to care to pay attention to you. And the more I really pay attention to you, with mindfulness, the more appreciation comes up.”

Mindfulness is “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

The best-known path to greater mindfulness is formal meditation — an exercise in which you train your brain by focusing on your breath, the sounds around you or some other anchor, while you let your thoughts and other distractions come and go, without judging or reacting to them.

Meditating “will set you up to be mindful throughout the day,” even if you struggle to maintain focus as you meditate, says Ralph De La Rosa, a meditation teacher and psychotherapist who is the author of Don’t Tell Me to Relax: Emotional Resilience in the Age of Rage, Feels, and Freak-Outs. “There are a lot of people who have the experience over and over again that they sit down to meditate and for 20 minutes it’s a mess. And then later that day they find themselves in an argument and they don’t react. Or they find themselves … being kinder to people [or] feeling better about themselves in some way.”

Meditation should be “the core workout” for anyone who wants to be more mindful, Jha says.

But Brewer says that in his research, he has found that less formal mindfulness practices, such as repeatedly noting how you feel when you smoke, overeat or worry too much, can help some people even more than meditating does.


And spending time in nature in a mindful way — even just a quiet walk in the woods — has been shown to quickly lower blood pressure and ease anxiety (see our story on the healing power of nature). Others experience a kind of mindful state when they’re immersed in creative hobbies such as gardening or knitting — an absorption known in positive psychology as “flow.”

If you are new to mindfulness, or want to try some different approaches, here are a few exercises that offer a taste of what it means to focus on the here and now:

Practice the simple art of pausing

At any moment in the day, “just pause and experience whatever activity is going on,” Brach suggests: “Open the senses. Pay attention to the sounds, the sensations, the feelings, even if it’s just for 20 seconds.” When you are caught up in thinking, you miss a lot, she says.

Breathe in and out

There are many mindfulness breathing exercises. One you can do any time is to pause and “mindfully breathe in to the count of four or five, then out for the count of four or five,” Brach says. With every out breath, feel that you “are letting go of what is not needed,” she suggests. After three rounds, “notice what has shifted,” she says.

Brewer suggests another version: When you feel stressed, identify where in your body you feel it — whether it’s a tight chest, clenched jaw or fluttering stomach — and direct a deep breath to that spot (not worrying about whether that’s anatomically possible). Hold it there for a few seconds and then breathe out. See if you notice a decrease in tension.

Try five-finger breathing

Brewer suggests combining breathing with a multisensory task meant to “crowd out worries and thoughts and give our brains a chance to reboot.”

Here’s how to do it: Hold up one hand with your fingers open, palm facing you. Now use the index finger from your other hand to trace your pinkie up from the base to the tip, as you breathe in. Then breathe out as you trace down the other side. Do the same with each finger. When you reach the base of the thumb, repeat in the opposite direction.

Just say, ‘hmmm.’

That expression of curiosity “is my favorite mantra,” Brewer says. At any time, just stop and say “hmmm,” and take a moment to be curious about what you are experiencing. It’s “a way to really awaken our natural ability to be curious without turning it into something intellectual,” he says.

Widen your eyes

Another way to jump-start curiosity about your present reality is to literally widen your eyes, just as we do automatically when something interests us, Brewer says. The next time you are anxious or frustrated, you may notice that your eyes have narrowed, he says. Try widening them and see if your perspective changes.

Just say, ‘yes.’

Try what Brach calls “yes meditation”: Pause and notice whatever you are aware of in the moment. Mentally name it and say “yes” to it, even if it’s something uncomfortable, such as feeling chilly or angry. “ ‘Yes’ doesn’t mean ‘I like it.’ ‘Yes’ doesn’t mean ‘I want it to go on,’ ” Brach says. “It’s acknowledging reality.”

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Alzheimer’s Association Encourages Americans to Make Brain Health A Priority as Part of Their Return to Normal

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month – Association offers tips to promote brain health post-pandemic

NEWS PROVIDED BY Alzheimer’s Association 

Jun 01, 2021, 08:01 ET

CHICAGO, June 1, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country, many Americans are looking forward to resuming their lives and returning to normal. This June, during Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging all Americans to make brain health an important part of their return to normal.

“The past year has been extremely challenging for most Americans,” said Beth Kallmyer, vice president, care and support, Alzheimer’s Association. “Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety. As Americans begin to return to normal, we encourage them to make brain health a priority.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these five suggestions to promote brain health and to help Americans restore their mental well-being:

1.  Recommit to Brain-Healthy Basics
Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a back seat for many Americans during the pandemic. Gym memberships were put on hiatus, social engagement became more challenging and many Americans swapped out healthful eating for their favorite comfort foods, take-out meals and frequent snacking while working remotely. One study published recently found participants gained nearly 1.5 pounds per month over the past year, on average.

The Alzheimer’s Association — through its U.S. POINTER Study — is examining the role lifestyle interventions, including diet, may play in protecting cognitive function. Right now, many experts agree that people can reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:

  • Exercise regularly — Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.
  • Maintain a heart-healthy diet — Stick to a meal schedule full of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-balanced diet. Some evidence suggests a healthful diet is linked to cognitive performance. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are linked to better cognitive functioning, and help reduce risk of heart disease as well.
  • Get proper sleep — Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern benefits physical and psychological health, and helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.
  • Stay socially and mentally active — Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind by doing activities that stump you, like completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing strategy games. Or challenge yourself further by learning a new language or musical instrument.

2.  Return to Normal at Your Own Pace
Many Americans are eager for a return to normal life following the pandemic, but others are anxious. In fact, one recent survey found that nearly half of adults (49%) report feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. For those feeling anxious, Kallmyer suggests taking small steps. It may also be important to set boundaries and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.

“People need to be patient with themselves and with each other,” Kallmyer advises. “After a year like this one, the last thing you want to do is to create additional anxiety. COVID-19 infections are still occurring, so there is no need to rush things until the pandemic is truly behind us.”  

3.  Help Others
There is evidence to suggest that helping others during the pandemic may not only make you feel better, but it may be good for you as well. Research shows that helping others can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. One study published during the pandemic found that adults over age 50 who volunteer for about two hours per week have a substantially reduced risk of dying, higher levels of physical activity and an improved sense of well-being. To help others and yourself during June and throughout the year, volunteer in your community, run errands or deliver meals to a home-bound senior or donate to a favorite cause, such as supporting participants in the Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day event on June 20.

4.  Unplug and Disconnect
Technology has dominated our daily lives during the pandemic like never before. While technology has kept us connected through COVID-19, it has also created fatigue for many Americans. Experts warn that excessive stimulation coming from our phones, computers, social media sources and news reports can add to our already heightened anxiety levels. To avoid technology overload, experts advise setting limits on your screen time, avoid carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnecting from digital devices at bedtime.

5.  Control Your Stress Before it Controls You
In small doses, stress teaches the brain how to respond in healthy ways to the unexpected, inconvenient or unpleasant realities of daily life. Prolonged or repeated stress, however, can wear down and damage the brain, leading to serious health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, memory loss and increased risk for dementia. Reports indicate that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to physical and emotional stress. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to help manage caregiver stress. Meditation, exercise, listening to music or returning to a favorite activity you have missed during the pandemic are just some ways to manage stress. Do what works best for you.

“COVID-19 has been overwhelming for all of us,” Kallmyer said. “It’s important for people to recognize there are steps they can take to lessen the stress and anxiety they are feeling. It’s easy to take brain health for granted, but more than ever, it’s a good idea to make it a priority.”

Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 40 countries are working together to study the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the brain and nervous system in people at different ages, and from different genetic backgrounds.

About Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
Created by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2014, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is dedicated to encouraging a global conversation about the brain and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, available resources and how you can get involved to support the cause, visit alz.org.

About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

SOURCE Alzheimer’s Association

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5 Healthy Aging Tips Every Woman Should Know

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Key Takeaways

  • As a woman, you may have many responsibilities on your plate, but your health should be a top priority.
  • Women are often the first line of defense when protecting their family’s health, but in doing so tend to put their concerns on the back burner.
  • These quick tips can help keep you happy and healthy as you juggle your everyday responsibilities.

1. Get breast cancer screenings every 1 – 2 years

One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and this risk increases with age. Mammograms are the best way to screen for breast cancer, especially during the early stages. The good news is that breast cancer can usually be treated successfully when found early. Medicare covers a free yearly mammogram screening.  Learn more about how to prepare and what to expect during the exam.

2. Routine pap exams are the best way to detect cervical cancer

Known as the “silent killer,” cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer for American women, but thanks to widespread use of the Pap test, early detection has significantly improved and boosted U.S. survival rates. Cervical cancer may not have any signs or symptoms, so it’s recommended women ages 21 to 65 get routine test about every three years. Medicare covers cervical and vaginal cancer screenings once every 24 months or every 12 months if you are at high risk.

3. Exercise will improve your overall health

Roughly 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate exercise a week could improve not only your physical but also mental health. Being active helps improve moods and reduce feelings of depression. It can also help manage diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

4. Focus on your mental health

Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental illness, depression being one of the most common. There’s often confusion around what exactly depression is, especially since many older adults experience major changes in their life like the death of loved ones or medical problems that could cause sadness. The difference is that the feeling is only temporary. If your feelings of sadness begin to interfere with daily life and normal functioning, you may be experiencing depression. Start by speaking with your doctor and determine if a Medicare depression screening is right for you.

5. Healthy eating can prevent serious health conditions

Proper nutrition is essential for the body. As you get older you lose muscle mass, bone density, and burn fewer calories. It takes extra effort to make up for the natural changes of your body which is why eating high nutrient foods make a big difference. Decreased bone density can result in one of the major health concerns affecting about 8 million women, osteoporosis, due to calcium deficiencies in diet.

As a woman, you may have many responsibilities on your plate, but your health should be a top priority. 

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Myth Busters: Six Common Misconceptions About Nutrition as We Age

Maintaining a nutritious diet is no easy task, but for many, eating well becomes even trickier as we get older. Add in medications that require dietary changes or chronic health conditions, and it’s no wonder some lose track of a healthy eating routine or experience fluctuations in weight. By prioritizing nutrient-rich foods, we can strengthen our minds and immune systems, while also preventing illness down the road. Below are some common myths on healthy eating habits for individuals 65 and older. 

  1. Myth: Older adults must eat three “proper meals” a day. o Fact: Caloric needs vary from person to person. Eating three full meals a day can sometimes be a struggle for seniors who experience a loss of appetite or find cooking time consuming. Pre-packaged meals or convenience dishes such as frozen vegetables can often do the trick. If three meals are too many, consider swapping them for five or six healthy snacks throughout the day. 
  2. Myth: All hydration needs to come from fluids. o Fact: Staying hydrated is vital for health, but some seniors can struggle to get the appropriate amount of water. While water is the best source of hydration, consuming water-rich foods like watermelon, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes, or strawberries can be a great supplement. 
  3. Myth: Supplements are sufficient on their own. o Fact: Dietary supplements are often seen as a quick way to get your daily vitamins and minerals in, but the best way to receive nutrients is through the food we eat. If you have difficulty eating a variety of food, talk with your doctor about the best approach for you. 
  4. Myth: Low-sodium or low-fat diets are better for everyone. o Fact: Despite popular beliefs, a low-fat diet or low-sodium diet isn’t always the best. Unless you have certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, eliminating salt can make food unappetizing and lead to missed meals. Meanwhile, fat is an important source of calories and something that’s especially important for older adults who struggle to keep weight on. It’s all about moderation. Before making any extreme changes to your diet, consult your physician. 
  5. Myth: Older adults don’t need as much protein as younger generations. o Fact: Older adults need more protein than adults under the age of 65. Proteins — lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs — should form the center of a meal. The food group is vital to keeping your bones and organs healthy, as well as your immune system functioning well. 
  6. Myth: We don’t need to worry about nutrition in our later years. o Fact: A healthy lifestyle should be pursued at every stage of your life. The National Council on Aging recommends older adults eat a variety of foods, including lean proteins, fruits and vegetable, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. It’s alright to occasionally enjoy guilty pleasures, so long as your diet is balanced with healthy options as well. 

The earlier you establish healthy eating habits, the easier it will be to continue those behaviors as you age. For more information, visit www.homeinstead.com/care-resources/#SeniorHealthWellbeing. 

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Biden’s Jobs Plan Includes $400 Billion for Home Care

  • 04/02/2021 09:25:50 
  • Link at: https://www.n4a.org/blog_home.asp?display=1046

While details remain scarce, the wide-sweeping jobs and infrastructure proposal that President Biden released on Wednesday, titled “The American Jobs Plan,” contains good news for both advocates for and recipients of home and community-based services. With $400 million of investment in “expanding access to quality, affordable home or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities,” the plan does not yet detail exactly how this boost to Medicaid HCBS would be implemented. 

One of n4a’s priorities, the Money Follows the Person Program, is specifically mentioned, although it’s unclear if it would receive a long-term authorization or it would be made permanent. It is also important to note that this section of the larger plan is also focused on HCBS and other care workers, not just beneficiaries. Wednesday’s announcement included the following nod to issues important to the Administration such as minimum wage increases and support for unions: “These investments will help hundreds of thousands of Americans finally obtain the long-term services and support they need, while creating new jobs and offering caregiving workers a long-overdue raise, stronger benefits, and an opportunity to organize or join a union and collectively bargain.” It is not yet clear to n4a how these twin goals of greater access to services and a better-paid workforce will intersect. n4a will be engaging in advocacy around this jobs and infrastructure package as it pertains to our policy agenda and members’ priorities, including, potentially, investments in transportation, the need to grow and strengthen the HCBS workforce, and infrastructure options that help older adults stay engaged and age well at home (e.g., broadband initiatives). n4a members will learn more as we do, so stay tuned to our members-only Legislative Updates and this space in the coming months as Congress responds to this latest proposal as well as others 

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A 93-Year-old Veteran Whittling Walking Sticks Has Raised $16,000 For Food Pantry

By Judy Cole -Dec 28, 2020

When the going gets tough, the tough keep going, or at least that’s what you do when you’re a 93-year-old retired Air Force Colonel—and John Hobson likes to keep busy.

Courtesy of John Hobson

“If he just got put somewhere and told him to sit down, he’d go crazy,” his son Mark Hobson, told WKEF-TV.

In 2020, Hobson occupied himself by handcrafting close to 100 walking sticks, the proceeds of which, he donated to a local Ohio charity outreach group, the Xenia Area Fish Food Pantry.

“He’s just a sweet man who gives a darn about other folks who don’t have [anything],” Mark Hobson said.

To sell his wares, Hobson set up a roadside stand in his front yard. The price was beyond reasonable: $3.00 each, or a food pantry donation.

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