Senior woman in medical mask with social worker visiting her at home
(iStock)

While caregiving may feel like a scary or uncertain experience, many resources are available in the local Jewish community that can help make the transition a bit easier.

As parents and spouses age, the possibility of running into a situation where you either become a caregiver yourself or need to find a caregiver is something many people may encounter.

A caregiver is a family member or paid helper who helps take care of a sick, elderly or disabled individual. While caregiving may feel like a scary or uncertain experience, many resources are available in the local Jewish community that can help make the transition a bit easier.

Caregiver Resources

One of the first places people can turn for caregiving assistance is Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit. “We have a whole host of services that might be helpful to people who are new to caregiving,” explains Lynn Breuer, JFS director of community outreach and wellness. 

The agency provides geriatric case management services to older adults who are struggling to meet basic needs, as well as more intensive fee-based geriatric care management services through its ElderCare Solutions of Michigan division. This intensive program supports older adults and helps their families plan for caregiving while offering guidance, advocacy and emotional support.

“Sometimes a caregiver just might need one or two meetings with a geriatric social worker,” Breuer explains of one possible scenario where help may be provided. This can be an individual whose father was recently diagnosed with dementia, or an individual whose loved one became disabled after experiencing a stroke.

Lynne Breuer leads a PATH (Personal Actions Toward Health) class.
Lynne Breuer leads a PATH (Personal Actions Toward Health) class. JFS

“We would walk people through some of the steps to take care of the elderly,” Breuer continues. “A consultation is helpful for difficult situations like, ‘How do we help someone stop driving?’ or if someone needs to move.” 

JFS coaches caregivers on how to find a community that will meet their loved one’s needs, among other topics that some may not feel equipped to handle on their own.

For those without next steps lined up for caregiving, the Geriatric Care Management program also offers assessments that help determine which path to take. “People may know their loved one is declining, but they don’t know what to do to bring some stability,” Breuer said. “If that’s the case, someone from our team can do an assessment of that person and take a look at everything from their activities of daily living to what they’re able to do without assistance.”

JFS can help make recommendations for medication management, alleviating social isolation (especially throughout the pandemic), cognitive screening and other forms of support for loved ones in need of caregiving. They also offer a door-through-door transportation service that helps take people to appointments, check them in and make sure they get safely to and from their locations. Kosher meal delivery services can also be arranged for individuals struggling to cook.

Caregiver Health

Taking care of loved ones can take a significant toll on caregivers themselves. According to Caregiver.org, 40-70% of family caregivers show clinical symptoms of depression. That’s why it’s essential for caregivers to also focus on their own physical and mental health to prevent burnout or other more serious complications. “People need to take care of their own health, so they are better able to provide care for people who are counting on them,” Breuer says.

Julie Verriest leads a class on Zoom at the Brown Center.
Julie Verriest leads a class on Zoom at the Brown Center. John Hardwick

Sleep, exercise and healthy eating all play an important role in overall health, something caregivers should aim to make a priority in life. Practicing calmness is also important, whether through meditation, journaling or simply taking time for oneself in the midst of caring for another.

Caregivers can also access JFS’ caregiving support programs, which include group health coaching classes that cover topics like how to talk to physicians, problem-solving and making tough decisions. “This can all be overwhelming when you’re providing care for someone else,” Breuer says. “These classes focus on helping people develop a rich toolbox of ways to better care for themselves.”

JFS also provides free presentations and community workshops that talk about a variety of caregiving-related concerns, like how to prevent falls or improve brain health. Additionally, caregivers can access behavioral health services that include mental health counseling at JFS.

Support Services

Yet, JFS isn’t the only place people can turn. Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit also extends monthly virtual caregiver support groups to the community. “Anyone is welcome to attend,” says Debi Banooni, director of the Dorothy and Peter Brown Adult Day Program, a partnership of Jewish Senior Life and JVS Human Services. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere where people are invited to share what they would like or just listen.” 

Brown Center
Brown Center John Hardwick

In these virtual support groups, people can join a community of individuals also involved in caregiving to talk about struggles, successes or resources they’ve found. “People realize they’re not alone,” Banooni continues. “We want to make sure care partners are not feeling isolated.”

A variety of other programs are also available through the partnership for people who might need caregiving, such as individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These include chair exercises, musical activities and other programs people can participate in, including caregivers.

Not only does this benefit individuals in need, but the programs can help alleviate caregiver stress, allowing caregivers time to cook, clean or simply take a few moments to breathe and relax. Or, if they’d like, to take part in the workshops and have a bit of fun with their loved one.

Both new and existing caregivers can reach out to Jewish Family Service, (248) 592-2313, or the Dorothy and Peter Brown Adult Day Program, (248) 592-5031, for more information or guidance on how to receive support.

Legal Steps to Take to Plan for Caregiving

While health management is undoubtedly one of the biggest elements of caregiving, caregivers should consider legal steps to protect their rights and the rights of cared-for loved ones. Here’s what Mount Clemens-based elder law attorney and wealth preservation specialist Patrick Simasko of Simasko Law, simaskolaw.com, recommends doing to ensure legal safety in the caregiving process:

1. Sign a medical power of attorney.

“You absolutely need to have your loved one sign a medical power of attorney,” Simasko says. A medical power of attorney allows you to make medical decisions if your loved one is unable to. It’s important to have this document made before a person gets sick. Because of COVID-19 restrictions in hospitals, he explains, families and lawyers will not be able to enter a hospital all together, which makes it harder to try and get these documents signed and notarized should your loved ones fall sick with anything.

2. Sign a financial power of attorney.

“Another essential document for your loved one to sign is a financial power of attorney,” he says. A financial power of attorney grants you the power to make money decisions on behalf of your loved one. When creating a financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney, make sure to list more than one person in these documents, Simasko suggests. That way, if the person listed first is unable to perform their duties for any reason, there is another person in line to take over.

3. Create an estate plan.

“The next thing you need to do is create an estate plan, which will include the medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney and revocable trust, if you want to avoid probate,” he continues. At the same time, double-check all the ownership and beneficiary designations on your loved one’s various financial accounts to make sure they’re going to the right people.

4. Understand FMLA rights.

“It’s important for caregivers to understand their FMLA rights if they need to care for a family member,” Simasko says. “Make sure to look into the Family and Medical Leave Act so you can get extra time off to help care for your loved one.” With many people working from home, he says it’s now easier for caregivers to attend to family needs.

5. Monitor for signs of elder abuse.

“If you need to place your loved one into a facility or have caregivers come into the home, make sure you monitor the situation closely — regardless if the caregiver is a professional, neighbor or relative,” Simasko cautions. “These caregivers have access to vulnerable individuals and may start to financially exploit them. Be very careful and watch for the signs.” These can include a misuse of personal checks, credit cards or accounts, along with intimidation and blaming of the individual being cared for.

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