The Harrison County Extension Agency’s “Grabbing onto Health & Wealth” Senior Health Symposium turned out to be a success Wednesday, equipping seniors with the tools they need to ease into their golden years.

“About 40 attended. The goal was just to increase awareness about aging,” said County Extension Agent Louraiseal McDonald, noting it was the first time the agency hosted an event of this kind.

“It’s helping [the transition], and if you’re already there, how to maintain,” she said. “What we were telling the people is not all seniors are in the nursing home, not all seniors are helpless. And if you’re alive you are aging, but as we age, what steps do we need to do now.

“And then there are some of us who are in the workforce, we are caregivers. And for those of us who are caregivers, [please ask]: ‘Mom, dad, grandma, auntie, do you have a will; do you have a trust? Let’s write it out now instead of when you’re gone,’” said McDonald. “It’s like what do we do? We always want to respect our loved one’s wishes. So you really need to sit down, write you a list, find you a good source. And this was a good starting point for any and everybody.”

The free event was held at the extension office’s new home at 2005 Warren Drive. The symposium addressed estate planning and legal concerns, benefits counseling and featured cooking demonstrations. It also touched on the importance of implementing healthy habits as one ages.

Presenters for the occasion were Sandra McChristian, a benefits counselor with the Area Agency on Aging of East Texas; Jerry Jones of My Texas Estate Plan; Regi Fowler of the Alzheimer’s Association of East Texas chapter, who spoke on healthy living for the brain and body; and McDonald, who shared information on the Senior Medicare Patrol program, which cautions seniors about fraud and scams.

“Sandra McChristian with the Area Agency on Aging does benefits counseling. They meet with people and they give you your different options,” McDonald noted. “Jerry Jones with East Texas Estate Planning was there talking about estate planning. Then he also explained the difference between a trust and a will. People wanted to know what was best. He said it depends on your situation. Jerry did an excellent job just basically going over trusts and wills. Then there was Reggie Fowler with the Alzheimer’s Association. He did talk about a few of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, what to be on the lookout for. He touched a little bit on nutrition.”

In her presentation, McDonald followed up with the importance of having a doctor and healthier lifestyle.

“I mainly focused on not eating so much salt and then the importance of reducing your sodium or salt intake. Then we talked about different ways of seasoning your food. Instead of using salt or those different blends that have salt in it, use natural things like herbs and spices,” said McDonald.

Regarding nutrition, attendees also gained helpful tips on the various uses of herbs and spices and cilantro and parsley.

“I showed them cilantro and parsley. A lot of times they can look just alike, but they are different,” said McDonald.

Other nutrition pointers focused on the variations of onions.

“For the most part, an onion is an onion but when you taste it there is a difference. Most of the times with a red onion you’ll see that in a salad whereas your yellow onion or white onion they’re like in a salsa or they’ll grill them or put them on your burger — things of that nature,” said McDonald.

Tony Aguilar with the Cammack Family funeral services also provided pertinent information on transportation arrangements, following death.

“It was regarding the paperwork that families need to have on file to make the transition of getting the body from the hospital to the funeral home easier,” noted McDonald.

McDonald thanked all participating vendors for their involvement. Vendors were: Marshall Hospice of East Texas, who also donated water for the occasion; the Area Agency on Aging; the Alzheimer’s Association; East Texas Aging and Disability Center; and Angel Hands Hospice. She also expressed appreciation to the extension agency’s Master Wellness volunteers, who helped prepare the lunch for the day, consisting of chicken salad, broccoli salad, black bean salad and more.

“A big thank you goes to the Harrison Family Community Health Committee and the Harrison Master Wellness volunteers,” said McDonald. “They really helped prep the food. And thank you to Twelve Way Foundation. Twelve Way came and helped set the room up. I really, truly appreciate that. I’m just very thankful and appreciative for those who came.”

McDonald said there’s still a lot more information to delve into, but the symposium was a very good start.

“This was very informative,” she said, noting they even had a guest from neighboring town, Jefferson, to attend. “We had tons of door prizes. It’s the first one like this.”

McDonald said the extension agency’s Harrison Family Community Health Committee has traditionally hosted an annual Alzheimer’s and dementia seminar in the past, prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic. She’s pleased they were able to expand on that this year by offering this first-time senior health symposium.

“There will be more activities,” she said. “If somebody has a question or if they have a suggestion for a program, call and let me know so we can put it on the agenda for next year.”

But in the past, my committee, the Harrison Family Community Health Committee, we normally do an Alzheimer’s and Dementia seminar. We were doing those once a year for probably about three years before the pandemic. That was the direction we were headed in whenever we were planning that. I’ve done this program with the Area of Agency called a Matter of Balancing. It’s a fall prevention program for seniors. And so I knew I was going to do more things with the Area Agency and then I wanted to try to do something with Reggie.

County/Courts Reporter

Robin Y. Richardson is an award winning print journalist, serving as the county government and courts reporter. She earned her journalism degree from TSU and master's from LSUS. She is the proud mother of one daughter.