In the last six months, Temple Emanuel of Long Beach, L.I., opened its doors for a social adult day-care program for seniors with dementia. Seven seniors attend twice a week and the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Bennett Herman, described it as "probably the best example of group work activity I’ve ever seen."
"The program is like a God-send as far as I’m concerned," said the rabbi, whose wife of 40 years, Hayuta, 64, has had Alzheimer’s for five years and is one of the participants. "I’m the primary caregiver and it is an overbearing situation. We do movies and lunch together, but there is not the professional type of interaction that takes place each Monday and Wednesday from 10 to 2. They do movement, arts and crafts and dancing, and they have discussion groups. My wife bowls, sings and plays the piano. There is very important involvement in this program. We should strive to have it three days a week."
That program is one of 17 funded in part by UJA-Federation, which is making a major push to increase the number of such groups throughout the city, Long Island and Westchester. To do that, a group of caregivers, providers and professionals from UJA-Federation agencies plan to travel by bus to Albany Feb. 1 to persuade lawmakers to allocate $10 million to strengthen existing programs and to create new ones. They are slated to testify before the Assembly Aging Committee.
Anita Altman, deputy director of UJA-Federation’s Caring Commission, noted that the fastest growing segment of the Jewish population in this area are those who are 85 and older, and that this age group has a high rate of dementia. She said state figures indicate that seniors in the state age 75 and above will increase by nearly half in the next 10 years, while at the same time the number of those 85 and above will increase by 127 percent.
"We need to have a social environment to brighten their lives and help the caregivers who are overwhelmed," she said. "We at UJA-Federation have encouraged our network to develop many such programs, and in the last three years we have increased the number from four to 17."
But she said the state is not helping to support them. Virtually the only money it is channeling to adult day care is to programs with a medical component that are run by nursing homes for Medicaid patients only. Altman noted that social adult day care programs are much less expensive and that there is at least one program in the five boroughs, Westchester and Nassau. Suffolk is the one exception with no programs.
David Stern, executive vice president of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, said his organization now runs a senior program at the Suffolk Y and that a social adult day-care program would be a "logical outgrowth. We are interested in such a program and realize how meaningful and valuable these programs are."
But he said because "transporting people over great distances is hard, one program in Suffolk would not be enough."
Stern noted that his organization opened four social adult day-care programs in the last three years in Long Beach, Coney Island, Far Rockaway, and Coop City in the Bronx. They and the other UJA-Federation-supported programs offer hot lunches to participants.
"Our programs are geared to those where there is a caregiver in the home," he said. "It provides the caregiver with respite and a chance to breathe, and it strengthens them to continue on. In many cases, we have support groups for caregivers. To see loved ones deteriorate and not know you, maybe even try to assault you" is often difficult to cope with.
Aileen Gitelson, JASA’s executive vice president for case services, said her office is now gathering data on the number of people who might be interested in an adult day-care program in Suffolk. She said proposals for UJA-Federation’s next grant cycle will not be accepted until December. But Gitelson said that "if there are a group of people who see it as a big need, and there are synagogues that agree, we would look to foundations and other funding sources" rather than wait a year to start the program.
Gitelson said JASA’s four existing programs serve people with mild to more serious dementia and "give those people an opportunity to participate in enjoyable activities that keep them alert, let them interact with other people and give caregivers a respite. They have been very successful; the socialization has been the most important thing because it gives them something enjoyable to do in the middle of the day."
She said that those who attend these programs appear "more relaxed and there is less wandering, less a sense of being unhappy. It is also easier for them to manage."