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August 2013 | Grants Newsletter

Who Cares for the Caregiver?

What it takes to keep a 93-year-old with dementia at home

Willing Hearts Helping Hands Volunteers Crystal Kalangis,
Joyce Aronovici, and George Stanley

Since her husband’s diagnosis of severe dementia three years ago, Doris Cox, 76, has devoted her days to helping Ira. She cooks for him, reads to him, and dresses him. She has developed anxiety and has little time to take care of her own arthritis and high blood pressure. The children, settled far away, can’t offer daily help.

Last year, she reached out to Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation. Now, two volunteers in its Willing Hearts Helping Hands program pitch in with household chores while offering companionship and encouragement. “When I become stressed and feel hopeless, they tell me I can do it, and so I do,” says Doris. “It’s nice to have someone who is for you.”

Ira Cox is one of a quarter of a million elders in New York City who have chronic health problems that make them dependent on others. Many aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or wealthy enough to afford home health aides.

“Families do everything imaginable to keep loved ones at home, even if it means turning their lives upside down,” says Lorraine Breuer, vice president for research and grants at the Parker Institute. Even the most devoted relatives often burn out. “We see caregivers neglecting to take care of themselves, overeating, drinking, and getting depressed.”

To give respite to more caregivers, a Trust grant of $45,000 is expanding recruitment and training of volunteers. They teach computer skills, provide companionship, buy groceries, and even care for pets. They also keep an eye out for signs that caregivers need more help at home than they’re getting.

Practicing school nurse and volunteer Joyce Aronovici, 72, takes her elderly clients out “to admire the flowers and get a little sun.” The men like to look at cars: “Some things,” she says, “never change.” She especially likes to work with veterans. “I am fulfilling a responsibility that I have—that we all have. I was never in a war, but I can provide our veterans with someone to talk to and depend on.”

In her will, Leone Scott Wise left The Trust money “for care, companionship, and attention to homebound elderly.” Sherman Day left funds “to help needy, elderly couples remain together at home.” Elliot and Florence Westin set up a fund to, among other things, “help people with Alzheimer’s and their families.” Thanks to their combined generosity, we made this $45,000 grant to train caregivers.

Other grants to improve care for the elderly

  • Council on Social Work Education, $290,000 to train social workers to help elders making health care decisions. | National
  • New York University College of Nursing, $110,000 to increase the involvement of chronically ill elders and family caregivers in their own care. | Citywide
  • San Diego State University, School of Social Work, $30,000 to improve the training of professionals who investigate abuse and neglect of elders and other disabled adults. | National

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