Caring For Caregivers

Caring For Caregivers

While Marjorie Rosenthal was caring for her elderly mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during the last seven years of her life, she realized how difficult it would be had she not been able to afford a home-care attendant.

"People are living longer and longer and our bodies break down at some point," she said. "There aren’t a lot of places you would want to put a relative with Alzheimer’s, and itís a very difficult job caring for the person by yourself at home."

Rosenthal said that when her mother, Norma Pechenik, died two years ago at the age of 90, she, her brother and sister "thought the best way to honor her memory was to help provide respite care for other caregivers, who unfortunately need it."

In the next few weeks at Temple Emanuel of Long Beach, L.I., an Alzheimer’s respite day care program will begin on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. under the auspices of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged. There will be a $40 fee per session, but Karen Taylor, associate director of resource development at UJA-Federation of New York, said subsidies will be available from the Norma Pechenik Fund for those unable to afford the entire amount.

The Long Beach site (the first Jewish respite program on Long Island for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients) is one of three such programs opening in coming weeks under the auspices of UJA-Federation, Taylor noted. It will be co-sponsored by JASA and the South Shore Y JCC.

Another will be sponsored by the Educational Alliance will be at Co-Op Village Senior Care in Lower Manhattan, which is a co-sponsor. The third will be at Co-Op City in the Bronx, co-sponsored by the Senior Citizens Coordination Council of Co-Op City.

The respite programs will enable caregivers to go shopping, attend a movie or just take a nap without having to worry about the Alzheimer’s patient’s whereabouts.

Officials of UJA-Federation said these programs usually meet two or three times a week for a few hours each day and that as the need increases, additional programs will be added to meet the need. Because they are non-medical, they depend on program fees and donations.

Roberta Monat, director of Long Island services for JASA, said her organization proposed the program in Long Beach to UJA-Federation because of the large number of elderly Jews in that city: 8,000 above the age of 60. She said that both the Beach Y JCC and the JASA Senior Center offer programs for the well elderly, but "there is no place for the frail elderly to go to enhance their physical and mental well being."

Monat said the frail elderly are generally those above the age of 80 and that half of those 85 and above will develop dementia, a brain impairment of which Alzheimer’s is a form. Victims of Alzheimer’s experience disorientation, speech disturbances and severe short-term memory loss that can lead to the progressive loss of mental facilities while remaining physically healthy.

Pam Jaffe, director of the Long Beach program, said that as many as 15 Alzheimer’s patients can be cared for each day.

"In the early to moderate stages of the disease, the person generally lives at home and although usually forgetful, can still benefit from socializing," she said. "We will offer a safe, structured environment that will have a variety of activities, such as music, movement, exercise, dance and sing-a-longs. We will also celebrate the Jewish holidays and do reality ‘orientation therapy,’ which is a fancy name for current events to get the person oriented to time and place. Any activity will relate to the month or the season. We’ll be using the calendar as a tool do crafts and music so that people will retain as much awareness as possible of their environment."

The fee will include the cost of a hot kosher lunch for all participants. The meals will come from the JASA commissary in Far Rockaway, which also prepares the meals delivered to 160 homebound seniors each weekday, the meals provided seven-days-a-week for 10 of the most frail. JASA maintains a similar respite program for Alzheimer’s patients at Brookdale Village in Far Rockaway, she noted.

Taylor pointed out that scholarships are available from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg fund for those in the other Alzheimer’s day care respite programs.

"Nobody will be turned away because they can’t pay the fee," Taylor said.

She noted that the majority of elderly donít want to move and that these programs are designed to allow them to stay in their homes well into their later years.

"These programs allow frail seniors in stages of dementia to get out and socialize in a setting where they are cared for while still maintaining some independence," said Taylor. "And they provide respite for the caregiver."

She noted that often the caregiver is a spouse and that these programs "allow them to have time where they do not have to worry about their spouse wandering off while they go shopping."

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