(photo credit: Courtesy)
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On November 7, International Senior Citizen's Day, observed in the Knesset as Yom Hazaken, the Melabev Community Clubs for Eldercare held a tribute to their volunteers at the Jerusalem City Hall, and opened an exhibit on dementia care in Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Melabev - an acronym for the Hebrew Merkaz Letipul Bekashish Bekehilah ("center for care of the elderly in the community") - have been leaders in Alzheimer's care since they opened their doors, in 1981, under the direction of Prof. Arnold Rosin and Leah Abramowitz, MSW. Melabev was the first place in the Jerusalem to provided care for dementia patients who continued to live in the family home. There was also nowhere for their family caregivers to receive guidance and support. Melabev filled the breach with an all-volunteer staff.
In the nearly 25 years since then, the staff have became increasingly professiona - but this non-profit agency still relies on a corps of 200 volunteers. They work in all nine of the Melabev Day Centers and Memory Clubs. They drive the elderly to and from the day centers, they work in the centers just like salaried personnel, and volunteers help with office tasks. The Friends of Melabev are a dedicated group of English-speaking volunteers who plan and run social and educational events. They spread the word about Alzheimer's disease and the Melabev program for treatment and care - and they raise badly needed funds for this award winning non-profit agency.
The Tribute to Volunteers was held in the City Council Chambers of the Municipality of Jerusalem, hosted by Mina Fenton, a member of the City Council and Chair of the Council for the Advancement of Women. She personally thanked Abramowitz for the service Melabev provides the residents of Jerusalem.
Fenton contrasted the treatment of the impaired elderly at Melabev, with some statistics gleaned from Knesset discussions earlier in the day. Israel, she said, has an unusually high percentage of its population who are elderly, and unfortunately also an unusually high percentage of these who live in poverty: 25 percent.
Jane Klitsner gave a moving address on behalf of the volunteers, in essence thanking Melabev and Leah Abramowitz, and the elderly themselves for giving the volunteers the chance to perform their many acts of chesed. Acknowledging that while there are many relatively young volunteers, like her own daughter, who despite work and family obligations manage to find time for community service, the majority of the volunteers are themselves aging retirees. They are the well-elderly - and because of Melabev they have an outlet for their energies, an important way to contribute to making the lives of Alzheimer's patients a little better.
All the volunteers stood while their names were read out and they received resounding applause from everyone present.
The guest speaker for this distinctive Annual Membership Tea of the Friends of Melabev was the raconteur and freelance writer, Andrea Simantov who spoke of the many other acts of kindness and consideration performed by her fellow Jerusalemites, and of course the work of the Melabev volunteers. Simantov described a recent visit to a Melabev center, admitting to her initial hesitancy in joining a dance circle with these elderly for the first time, but she also spoke of their joy at the activities of the morning that she observed, and of the quality care she saw them receive.
"I'm pretty certain," said Simatov, "that had Melabev existed on Long Island in the mid 1960s, my grandmother's waning years and relationship with her extended family would have left a different legacy."
Abramowitz had just come from the opening of an exhibit on dementia care prepared by the staff of the day care center located in Sha'are Zedek Medical Center. The head of that day program, Jackie Diamond, wanted to find a fitting tribute of appreciation to Sha'are Zedek, where her group has been housed for the past 10 years. She and her staff did so by an exhibition for professional caregivers : "Exposure to the world of people with dementia and discovering new tools to treat them"
They illustrated the world of the demented with symbols of their confusion through an array (or disarray) of disparate items - and printed actual quotations of demented people who expressed their anxieties: "I feel absolutely terrible." "I'm not the same person I was." "I've got nowhere to go." "Now what? All I know is I'm in a mess."
In the adjacent hall, a dozen posters presented the possibilities available for these elderly in a well-run day care center. Beginning with an understanding of 12 types of interactions, and answering the question "What Does the Demented Person Need?" the display moved through the various therapies - including some of the most innovative, such as computer therapy - and the social setting that enhances the well-being of these elderly.
The esthetic level of excellence of the displays themselves exemplified the quality care, the attention to detail and the concern for each individual that is the hallmark of Melabev's program. And in the display - as in practice - the family members of the elderly were not forgotten.
All during the two-day exhibition, was prepared by staff, family members and volunteers, led by Jackie Diamond and Aya Zlotogora, art therapist for Melabev. Discussion groups by and for professionals drew sizeable numbers of people who work in eldercare at a variety of agencies.
MELABEV runs 9 day centers in the Jerusalem - Beit Shemesh area for the elderly who suffer from Alzheimer's-like symptoms. Support services - including support groups in both English and Hebrew--are offered to the spouse and adult children of the memory impaired. MELABEV's spectrum of services includes an Assessment unit in conjunction with Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and for continuity of care, there is a home care program--and a unique home hospice program--for dementia patients who can no longer attend day care.
A Resource Center, and its concommitant "Chat Room" on the MELABEV web site provide information for professionals and famiies on Alzheimer's care in Israel.
To learn more about Melabev-including the Memory Club for English Speakers check out their web site or call (02) 666 6198
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