Me: hi – mom? (I hear frantic chatter on the other end of the phone) Calm down, what’s wrong?
Mom: It’s aunt Rose. Something’s wrong. Her phone says it’s out of service, no one has heard from her in days! I’m freaking out – something for sure happened to her.
OK – I’ll check into it. It will be OK, just stay calm.
This was a call I got 8 years ago. After I hung up, thinking my mother-in-law was overreacting and that there was probably a mistake, I called the phone company and was shocked to learn that my aunt, who never missed a payment on a bill, had not paid her phone bill in 7 months.
My aunt was always so with it, lived independently, capably managed her household for years- how did she forget to pay her phone bill for 7 months!?
I went over to Rose’s house and found that she was fine and hadn’t realized the phone was out of service.
I was fully perplexed and continued my investigation by combing through her bills and checkbook – and that’s when I realized that we had a big problem. Multiple payments had been made to the same vendors while others were not being paid, and her most recent checks were returned for lack of funds. This told me two frightening things: my aunt had outlived her money and, she was clearly exhibiting signs of dementia.
A change in Rose’s life clearly needed to be made, but what was our family to do? We wanted to keep her at home, where she had lived in comfort for more than 55 years, but I had no idea where to find help, advice or direction. What resources were available for people like my aunt?
My family was lucky – as all of this aunt Rose excitement was going on, I was getting my masters in Gerontology and had just started working at the Senior Adult Center at the JCC. I knew that resources existed, but even I was under the impression that they were only available to people who had less than $2,000 to their name. But, through my work at the JCC, I learned that was not the case. There are actually many programs for “middle class seniors” but most people don’t know about them or how to find them. The knowledgeable staff at the JCC taught me how and also guided me on how to successfully help my aunt age in place at home, a complete relief for our family.
Finding the right resources for proper nutrition, transportation, home safety, and socialization were the key. They do exist, and the JCC can help you find them.
Here are resources they shared with me to assist my aunt in remaining independent:
Nutrition. There are many options in Bergen County that provide meals for seniors, as well as friendly visits and safety checks to help them live nourished lives with independence and dignity at home.
- Meals on Wheels is one home-delivered meal program made possible by the Bergen County Division of Senior Services. They can be reached at 201-336-7420.
- Kosher Meals on Wheels, provided by Jewish Family Services, can be reached at 201.837.9090.
- Pascack Valley Meals On Wheels at 201-358-0050.
There are also nutrition centers around Bergen County including kosher nutrition sites. In addition to providing well-balanced meals, these places also look to provide social interaction and access to other supportive services in the community. Visit http://www.co.bergen.nj.us/DocumentCenter/View/258.
Transportation: Get help getting to appointments or around town.
- Bergen County Community Transportation, offered by the Bergen County Department of Human Services, provides safe, scheduled transportation for seniors who need assistance getting to doctor appointments and other important visits. They can be reached at 201-368-5955.
- EZ Ride helps local communities in Passaic, Bergen, Hudson and Monmouth counties, providing flexible, non-restrictive service Monday – Friday, 9-3pm. They can be reached at 201-939-4242.
- Independent Transportation Network of North Jersey™ provides quality transportation for seniors and adults with visual impairments. They offer door-to-door dignified transportation seven days a week (yes!) and can be reached at 398.6885
Home Safety: Home safety is a huge consideration for those who wish to age in place, providing peace of mind for both seniors and their families. Fortunately, there is a wide range of services available designed to help seniors remain safe and secure in their homes.
- CHORE, provides volunteer handypersons, many of whom are seniors themselves, with the knowledge to perform simple household repairs like minor plumbing leaks, replacing outlets and light bulbs, repairing door locks, changing filters and batteries, or installing smoke alarms and grab bars. There service is free, but clients are expected to pay for the parts necessary to complete the repair. They are not licensed carpenters or electricians and cannot do emergency jobs, but are always willing to determine if a particular project is within their expertise. To schedule a service call 201-489-7790.
- BRAD-CORE, another good option, requires an annual $500 membership and offers a wide scope of services, including construction, plumbing, emergency response services, routine inspections, home automation, monitoring and security, and more. They are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists, and can be reached at 201.342.0663.
Socialization: Most towns throughout Bergen County have their own senior centers. Some are strictly nutrition sites, some offer exercise and games. So when it comes to deciding where to go, it is important to make that choice based on your loved ones needs and interests. How do they best like to spend their day? What are their hobbies and interests? What do they need most from a program? The right place makes a world of difference and some places offer a great deal more than others.
I can’t speak for other programs, but I can tell you about the Senior Activity Center at the JCC, where my aunt has found a social world and meaningful engagement that allows her to age in place at home without being isolated from the world. The program provides an engaging social program 5 days a week from 9-2 pm that includes breakfast and lunch, exercise, activities, entertainment, lectures, current events and most importantly meaningful social engagement. The environment is really unique, because participants are part of the larger JCC community, interacting with children, sharing in holiday celebrations, and feeling surrounded by people who truly care for her. It’s the perfect place for my aunt and I am so glad I found it.
Now, as the Program and Caregiver Services Coordinator I feel fortunate to be working in a program that can be so impactful on people’s lives. Not only do we offer seniors quality, kind and engaging programs in a vibrant, community atmosphere – but we also offer their caregivers essential and potentially life-saving advice that allows their loved one grow old with dignity and grace.
I understand firsthand how important these resources are for our community as our parents and grandparents age and I’m proud of what the JCC offers.
Feel free to reach out to me at 201-569.7900 ext. 439 if you would like to know more about any of the programs I mentioned or if you want to come by for a visit.
You are not alone.
Written by Marlene Ceragno, certified gerontologist and dementia care practitioner and the senior program and caregiver services coordinator at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.