SENIOR POWER… It’s about Closure

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday January 06, 2012 - 11:34:00 AM

Do you have a Donate Life California Registry ID in your wallet? Go to Do you have an Advance Health Care Directive (California version)? Do you have a sticker on your driver’s license to indicate your willingness to have your body parts used in behalf of others after your death? Right now 21,000+ Californians are waiting for an organ transplant — 21% of the more than 100,000 people waiting across our country. One third will die while waiting. 

Prior to 2004, no Registry had existed for those who wished to give consent to be an organ and/or tissue donor. Historically, while signing a donor card and placing the pink dot on your license served as an important symbol of your intent, it did not place you on any list or Registry. Donate Life California allows you to express your commitment to becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor. The Registry guarantees your plans will be carried out when you die. These are all your death-related considerations.  

1.8 million seniors died in the U.S. in 2008. The autopsy rate was highest for those aged 15-24, and lowest for those aged 65+. Post-mortem exams were performed on just 2 percent. The rate is even lower — less than 1 percent — for elders who died in nursing homes or care facilities. 


Investigative journalism is at risk. Many news organizations now see it as a luxury. ProPublica is an independent, non-profit that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, focusing on important stories of “moral force,” on exploitation of the weak by the strong, and on the failures of those with power. 

Death investigations in the U.S. are often carried out in settings that bear little resemblance to the high-tech morgues shown on television. In TV crime dramas and detective novels, every suspicious death is investigated by a highly trained medical professional, equipped with sophisticated 21st century technology. The reality in America’s morgues is quite different. 

There are two basic kinds of autopsy: the forensic autopsy and the medical autopsy. (Necropsy applies particularly to non-human bodies.) 

A forensic autopsy is one performed to satisfy the law. In most Western nations, an autopsy must be performed if a person died in suspicious circumstances, was unexpectedly found dead, died without having recently seen a physician who can attest to a cause of natural death, or is suspected of having had a disease that possibly threatens the public's health. In these circumstances, the state requires an autopsy and does not need permission from the deceased's relatives, if any, to perform one. If murder is suspected, the autopsy is required to establish the cause of death, to determine if the findings support the suspected crime, and to provide as much evidence as possible about how, when, and where such a crime might have occurred. 

A medical autopsy is performed when physicians are already satisfied that someone died a natural death. Pathologists then use the autopsy to investigate the details of that natural death. Most medical autopsies require the consent of the immediate family, which normally includes permission for the pathologists to take and to preserve organs and specimens of use to medical science. 

Valuable medical information can be learned from a post-mortem examination. Legionnaire's disease, for example, was discovered as a result of autopsies, and improved safety standards have resulted from the examination of the bodies of crash victims. 


The Elder Death Review Teams Act was entered into Chapter 301 California law in 2001. It authorized counties to establish an interagency elder death review team to help local agencies identify and review suspicious elder deaths and to facilitate communications among people who perform autopsies and people involved in the investigation or reporting of elder abuse or neglect. It specified that county elder death review teams shall be comprised of certain public and private entities and the procedures for the sharing or disclosure of information by elder death review teams.  

The Alameda County Elder Death Review Team contact is Dena Aindow, Elder Abuse Consultant, Alameda County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit. 510-383-8600. It is my understanding that the Alameda County elder death review happens as part of general death reviews. Aindow has approached Adult Protective Services about working together to develop a more formal death review team. Elder death reviews in Alameda County used to be done within the work of the domestic violence death review team. Solano County has a formal elder death review team that works with the coroner's office there.  

The Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner is located at 480 4th St., Oakland 94612; her/his phone number is 510-268-7300. “Specially trained forensic investigators are said to be on duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, to respond to the needs of public safety organizations, hospitals and/or private citizens in handling and investigating deaths falling under the jurisdiction of the Coroner.” 

What would happen if every Berkeley Daily Planet Senior Power column reader were to communicate to these and other individuals and agencies etc. the need to innovate/ activate an Alameda County Elder Death Review Team?  


When a death occurs under suspicious circumstances, the investigation into its cause is overseen by a coroner, who is often an elected official with no medical background, or by a medical examiner, usually a doctor who specializes in forensic pathology. ProPublica, in partnership with PBS Frontline and National Public Radio, surveyed almost 70 of the largest coroner and medical examiner systems in the U.S. in an in-depth look at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a dysfunctional system that literally buries its mistakes. 

In state after state, reporters found autopsies conducted by doctors who lacked certification and training. An increasing number of the 2.5 million Americans who die each year go to the grave without being examined at all. Erroneous death certificates and faulty reporting practices are partially responsible for so few senior deaths being investigated. But another factor is resistance on the part of many coroners and medical examiners to look into these cases. 

Coroner and medical examiner systems vary widely from state to state and even county to county. Death investigation in America consists of a complicated patchwork of systems. California, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York all rely on county coroners and some county medical examiners. There are 16 centralized systems run by chief medical examiners (Oregon, Utah, Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and all of New England), decentralized systems with a coroner in every county; and hybrid mixtures of both.  

Competent autopsies are beneficial, and needed, in a wide range of circumstances. 

There are no national standards and little oversight. Nationwide investigation has found that there is no federal oversight of death investigators or the offices in which they work. 

Forensic pathologists, “The Death Detectives”, specialize in determining the causes of sudden, unexpected or violent deaths. But experts say the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of these professionals. In some states, the only requirement for the job is to be at least 18 years of age. The U.S. started maintaining vital records in 1900 and by the mid-1930s all states were collecting mortality data. How valuable and accurate is this information?  

In 2012, advocacy efforts will continue to secure passage of two important reauthorizations. The Older Americans Act which currently includes funding for elder abuse and long-term care ombudsman programs and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which currently includes funding for the Training and Services to End Violence Against Women in Later Life Grant. Advocacy will also be focused on securing passage of the Elder Abuse Victims Act (H.R.2564, S.462), the National Silver Alert Act (H.R.112, S.1263), and the Senior Financial Empowerment Act (S.465). The Elder Justice Coalition will continue to help get additional states to apply for background check grants. Advocacy will also focus on having elder justice raised as an issue by both national parties in the 2012 Presidential campaign.  


Remember Gabriel Heatter who began “There’s good news tonight.”? 

"Sexual satisfaction in women increases with age" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], Jan. 3, 2012). 

"Pot (marijuana) smoking not tied to middle-age mental decline," by Amy Norton (Reuters Health, Jan. 4, 2012). 

"Mid-lane driving helps older adults stay safe" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], Jan. 4, 2012). 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Monday, Jan. 9. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. See also Jan. 16, 23 and 30. 

Monday, Jan 9. 6:30 P.M. “Castoffs” Knitting Group. All levels are welcome and some help will be provided. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av.. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 10. 10 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Creative Writing Workshop. Carrie Pickett, instructor, for the art and craft of writing. Enjoy weekly writing assignments, peer critique and discussion, and 

lectures on poetry and literature. Estimated cost per person is $150 (approximately $8 to $10 per week) depending on the number of participants. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Jan. 10. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

Come be inspired, find ways to beat cravings, find specific tools to make healthier food choices with Neta O’Leary Sundberg, Certified Health coach and Yoga teacher. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Jan. 10. 7 P.M. Poetry Night. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Jan. 11. 12 noon. Playreaders. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. See also Jan. 18, 25.  

Thursday, Jan. 12. 10:30 A.M. New Member Orientation & YOU! Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The New Member Orientation is a must if you are new to Alameda, recently retired, or expecting your parents for an extended visit! This Orientation offers a guided-tour to introduce you to the Center, an information packet outlining the various activities, programs, and services, and a coupon to enjoy a complimentary lunch provided by Bay Area Community Services (BACS)! Make a reservation by visiting the Mastick Office or calling 747-7506.  

Thursday, Jan. 12. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Improve circulation in your hands and body, loosen stiff joints in the shoulders, arms, and wrists, and stimulate the mind. Join the Mercy Retirement Community Drumming Circle. A free musical experience. 510-747-7510. 

Thursday, Jan. 12. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the library. Berkeley Public Library south branch. 1901 Russell. 510- 981-6100. 

Thursday, Jan. 12. 7 P.M. Café Literario. Berkeley Public Library west branch. 1125 University. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. January title: La tabla de Flandes by Arturo Perez-Reverte. 510-981-6270. 

Fridays, Jan. 13 and Feb. 17. 9:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Improve Creating Your Personal Learning Network. Join Mike McMahon, Volunteer, to learn to use the Internet and tools like Twitter and YouTube. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Jan. 17. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” by Erik Larson and/or “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich” by Eric Metaxas. 510-747-7510. See also Feb. 21.  

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 1 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. 510-981-5170. 

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 7 P.M. Adult Evening Book Group. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Thursday, Jan. 19. 12 Noon. Learn what identity theft is, how to prevent it, and what you can do if you become a victim. This is one in a series of free financial education seminars taught by USE Credit Union. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100.  

Thursday, Jan. 19. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library west branch. 1125 University 510-981-6270. See also Jan. 26. 

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 

Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Consider bringing items 

with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 

Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book Intro Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants will discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, this free program offers adult and teen patrons the opportunity to discuss books, films and the art of adaptation. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a YouTube Video Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to YouTube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043.  

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Not get enough exercise because you have mobility challenges? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Explore the Spanish San Francisco, Mexican Period, Indians, Gold Rush, Silver Boom, Earthquakes, Barbary Coast, World Fair, Monarch the Bear, and much more! Free. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series.  

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital. Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237  

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 

Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, who were the queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. As a pioneer in the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music, the Band has been honored with awards from Berkeley, Albany, and Alameda. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. FDIC Insurance Primer John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+! This course is taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required) and $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only to AARP. 510-747-7510 

Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. 1:3-3 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, her songs and her poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. It combines a fascinating inside look at the burgeoning global justice movement with the story of 

her own coming of age. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler emigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and all over the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. members will review “Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne” by James Gavin and/or “Paul Newman: A Life” by Shawn Levy. 510-747-7510. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852.