Stories, Struggles and Triumphs

Twenty-four older Rhode Islanders gathered this summer to explore issues affecting people their age, develop a network of community champions, strategize ways to increase engagement with elected officials and develop anti-ageism campaigns. Senior Fellows was an inaugural program created through the partnership of Age-Friendly Rhode Island and Leadership Rhode Island with funding from Point32 Health Foundation.

Gary Rindner

The eight-week program culminated with a graduation ceremony on August 8th where participants shared a civic commitment focused on a challenge they will address. Gary Rindner of Westerly said he was encouraged to hear about his colleagues’ ideas especially when it came to aging in place. He plans to develop his civic commitment around mobility and transportation which he pronounced necessary to remaining in the residence of one’s choosing and maintaining a well-rounded life as one ages.

Steve Brunelli

Mental decline is another adverse change aging Rhode Islanders should prepare for according to Steve Brunelli of East Greenwich. Mr. Brunelli shared some stark statistics: one in three older adults dies with Alzheimer’s disease. “Alzheimer’s disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined” stated Brunelli who shared his mission to help older adults take legal steps to prepare for losing their mental acuity by assigning a legal health care proxy for themselves while they are still cognizant.

Craig Hockenbrough

Alzheimer’s disease is also difficult for nonprofessional caregivers as Craig Hockenbrough discovered after his father was diagnosed with the disease. “My brothers and I were unprepared for the journey especially when we found my dad had become an adversary as we tried to provide support” said Mr. Hockenbrough who added that his experience was not an uncommon one as there are about 6.7 million Americans living with dementia. Mr. Hockenbrough will work to better equip the thousands of Rhode Island who provide care to aging family members without sacrificing their own mental health in the process.

Ron Caniglia

Another affliction facing older Rhode Islanders is hearing loss. Ron Caniglia very effectively illustrated this point when he mouthed the opening part of his presentation and told the cohort that is what things sound like when he takes his hearing devices out. The Warwick resident explained that hearing loss not only impairs an exchange and the intake of information but exacerbates loneliness and isolation as well as communication disorders. He asked his Senior Fellows to think about the things their family members have stopped doing which may be attributed to hearing loss. Mr. Caniglia said he has stopped going to musicals and the theater and often can’t contribute meaningfully to conversations. He urged people to stop procrastinating and take corrective steps in securing devices. For his part, Caniglia intends to use statistics to lobby legislatures to re-examine existing Medicaid stipends and increase them.

Michelle Carr presents certificate to Jane Adler

A medical misdiagnosis steered Jane Adler towards her civic commitment of designing a refillable patient information kit that older adults can fill out at home when they aren’t anxious or rushed. “We forget things, the doctor’s dictation machine didn’t pick something up or perhaps they misheard us” explained Ms. Adler who described her medical communications log as a place to capture interactions at the hospital, pharmacy or while talking to the insurance company. Adler emphasized the kit will be as valuable to family members or future care givers as it will in making aging adults become better advocates for themselves.

Michelle Carr presents certificate to Josephine O’Connell

In the perkiest manner, Josephine O’Connell shared her civic commitment of preparing for the inevitable, death. Revealing that attending funerals has become a more frequent occurrence among herself and friends and how uncomfortable talking about the subject can be, Ms. O’Connell described her first step as gathering her friends to have a frank conversation about planning for their demise and outlining their own funeral arrangements. “I want people to enjoy my funeral because I’ve had a good life and I want people to celebrate that,” said O’Connell.


The Senior Fellows will provide updates on their projects when they meet again in November. For more information about Age-Friendly Rhode Island visit