Former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter stated, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Caregiving for the elderly is a growing phenomenon in the United States, especially in Westchester County, New York. It is predicted that by 2030, the country will have about 71.5 million people over the age of 65-more than double the amount in 2000! In New York State, 13% of the population is 65+ and will increase to 20% by 2050. In Westchester, we have already reached the 20% mark, years ahead of the rest of the country. The fastest growing segment of our population are individuals 85 years of age and older. About 64% of older persons depend on informal caregivers (family, friends, and neighbors) rather than services provided by professionals, as their only source of assistance.
The goal for most families is to help seniors age safely and well, with dignity, in the homes and communities that they love. There is no one perfect program, as needs vary depending upon each individual’s situation, family, friends, and the community in which he or she resides. A thorough assessment of each senior’s situation must be conducted in order to find the best solution to meet his or her needs.
At Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS), one of the largest human service organizations in Westchester, a geriatric assessment is made to ensure that our clients have: safe transportation options, comprehensive health care, including treatment for mental health challenges, affordable housing, access to affordable food, and the best caregiving situation possible.
The assessment takes into account physical, emotional, financial, and social needs. There is a significant number of seniors who live alone and have limited means. They tend to be at greater risk for isolation, loneliness, and depression. Common stressors among older people include chronic medical problems or disabilities, and the loss of close friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Many seniors have families who live a distance away, adding to a feeling of isolation. And when relatives live in close proximity and assume the role of caregivers there is the additional challenge of family members feeling stressed and often pressured by “sandwich generation” demands.
At WJCS, we are committed to addressing the comprehensive needs of seniors. Our diverse range of services include: geriatric care management; home health services, mental health counseling; kosher home-delivered meals; in-home respite; assistance for caregivers with loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias; a program for people with life-threatening illnesses; Project Lifesaver (GPS emergency tracker); and a program to help seniors in institutions return home with the aid of wrap-around services.
One of our key roles is to provide clients with information about programs, services, benefits, and entitlements as well as referrals to appropriate Westchester County agencies. We are very fortunate that in Westchester County, the Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS) and the Westchester Public Private Partnership for Aging Services provide a wide range of services for caregivers: Care Circles, Care Prep, Caregiver Coaching Program, Next Stage, Livable Communities, Older Driver Family Assistance Program, home care, Caregiver Resource Centers throughout the County, elder abuse education, benefit/entitlement counseling, long-term care insurance education, info on Adult Day Care Centers, etc. In addition, Westchester County is rich with other agencies who are able to assist with housing issues, benefits/entitlements, Medicaid application, and Medicare advice.
Knowing that the well-being of caregivers is a key component in the care of seniors, WJCS offers support groups for individuals with Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias as well as for caregivers in assisted living centers throughout Westchester County as well as in our own offices. Whether a caregiver is feeling stressed, angry, resentful, or fulfilled in their role, the opportunity to share feelings in a safe and comfortable environment is helpful. Knowing that they are not alone, that it is all right to ask for help, and that there are resources and referrals that can help them, enable seniors to age safely in place, with dignity, in the homes and communities that they love, and support caregivers in their compassionate task.
Judy Fink, LCSW, is Director of Geriatric Services and Heidi Weiss, LMSW, MHA, is Coordinator of Addressing Alzheimer’s at WJCS-Westchester Jewish Community Services, located in White Plains, New York.