Learning about the golden years

Experts from the US, England and Israel will gather in Tel Aviv and Gush Dan to study and share information about how best to care for senior citizens.

old man 88 248 (photo credit: Batsheva Pomerantz)
old man 88 248
(photo credit: Batsheva Pomerantz)
Professionals from the United States, England and Israel will come together this December to participate in a tour of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the Dan Region highlighting the country's innovative and successful programs for its elderly population. The Second Geriatric Tour, which will take place December 2-4 and will be presented entirely in English, has been organized by the Geriatric Institute of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Hospital and the nonprofit Melabev organization for seniors with Alzheimer's. Participants will have the opportunity to see state-of-the-art facilities, meet leaders in the field of gerontology from both the government and academia, learn how the subject is taught to those contemplating working with the third age, and discuss common problems facing professionals around the globe who strive to give better and more empathetic care to their aging clients. Last year's First Geriatric Study Tour brought together social workers, therapists and directors of elder-care projects from four continents, who visited elder-care facilities in Jerusalem and the Negev. "People said they came out with new ideas or outlooks. They enjoyed the professional connections that they made," says Rakel Berenbaum, Melabev's study-tour coordinator. "Some collaborations were made between people from different parts of the US who met on the tour, as well as people on the tour with some of the sites that they visited." Tel Aviv and the central region were chosen because "we can squeeze in so much without wasting a lot of time traveling," according to Berenbaum. "We are offering a full program with many different types of facilities so that it could be of interest to a wide variety of professionals. We also believe that there is something to learn in each place. Each person and place will give over their own expertise. We are talking about the best professionals around." Currently, more than 65,000 senior citizens over age 65 live in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, comprising 20 percent of the city's population. As the largest elderly community in Israel, they therefore require multiple health, welfare, social and leisure services. Over half of the above are termed "old-old" (80+), and 330 are over the age of 100. While 80% are healthy and functioning, many others are totally isolated, suffer from health problems and live on only NIS 2,000 a month. "The municipality offers services and programs of all kinds to help the elderly remain at home as long as possible. They are sent to a facility only when there is no other choice," says Esther Stern, director of services for the elderly at the Tel Aviv Municipality, who is scheduled to speak to tour participants on "Services for the Elderly in Greater Tel Aviv and the Demographics that Influence Them." "The purpose of the programs is in line with the concepts of aging in place and continuity of care by providing support at home and the community. Many of the services are located near the elderly person's home, and are often under one roof," she says. The department also oversees an information center and support programs for family members, helps with adjusting the basket of services available to the elderly according to the Nursing Law, and offers seniors the opportunity to volunteer in numerous projects. Since Tel Aviv also has the most Holocaust survivors in the country, Stern introduced Café Europa in 2001 after seeing one in Los Angeles. Café Europa started in Stockholm in 1946 as a gathering place for survivors who were trying to preserve a flavor of home and recapture some of the joy of their youth. The café has three branches in different parts of Tel Aviv, attracting some 350 survivors weekly. "The venue imitates a café in Europe," Stern explains. "It is the only opportunity for some survivors to leave home. They dance and sing like in the 1930s, and feel comfortable talking about their experiences in the Holocaust." Tour participants are also scheduled to visit Beth Protea, a retirement facility in Herzliya where English is the language of communication. Beth Protea, a non-commercial community project, was established by South Africans in Israel in 1992 after the need for a retirement facility arose in the early 1980s. With residents comprising English-speakers from various countries, Beth Protea has three sections: independent living, assisted living and a nursing care unit. Three employees of Beth Protea took part in Melabev's first Geriatric Study Tour and returned to work inspired by the ideas and the opportunity to network with other professionals. Social worker Lynn Lochoff, Beth Protea's director, looks forward to presenting this year's participants with "an example of what a community is capable of doing - in this case the South African community. Our management [staff] are all volunteers. About 50 volunteers of all ages are involved in Beth Protea's activities." Beth Protea's residents are also involved with the community, says Lochoff. "The residents volunteer as English tutors in local schools. They prepared meals after learning about Herzliya children who could not afford lunch. We prepared meals for the Meals on Wheels of the Herzliya Municipality." The itinerary includes meetings with Florence Mittwoch, director of Bar-Ilan University's Brookdale study program for pensioners; Prof. Jiska Cohen-Mansfield of the Herczeg Institute of Aging at Tel Aviv University; and Tali Tzuk, director of the Learning Center on Aging, ESHEL, at Tel Hashomer Hospital. At Ichilov Hospital, participants will learn about its day-care program for psycho-geriatric patients and see its geriatric department, as director Dr. Yaffa Lehrman speaks on "Rehabilitation of Elderly Patients." Offering a taste of Israel's diverse populations, the tour will include a visit to the Day Care Center for the Arab Elderly in Jaffa and an opportunity to learn from Ezer Mizion about care for the elderly in the Bnei Brak haredi community. Tour participants will also enjoy a night tour of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and an opportunity to exercise at the beach with the city's old-timers (weather permitting). The Jerusalem-based Melabev (a Hebrew acronym meaning "heartwarming") was founded in 1981 by Prof. Arnold Rosin, then-head of the geriatric department at Shaare Zedek, and Leah Abramowitz, a geriatric social worker in the department. They realized the need for a framework to provide services for discharged patients with dementia, as there were no such community services available at the time. This year, Abramowitz received the Jerusalem Municipality's prestigious Yekirat Yerushalayim Award. Since its modest beginnings with one day center in Jerusalem, the organization has grown to nine centers in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, enhancing the quality of life for those afflicted with dementia. The centers use a range of activities and therapies, including Savion, a computer program that stimulates cognitive function. In addition to easing the burden on family members by forestalling or preventing institutionalization, Melabev's services are cost-effective for society at large. Melabev runs memory clubs for those suffering from mild memory loss, as well as a memory assessment clinic and individualized home care. Its counseling and support groups for family and caregivers are offered in several languages for Jerusalem's immigrant populations. Melabev is also holding its Fifth Annual "Don't Forget Me" Walkathon to raise funds and awareness about Alzheimer's. This year's Walkathon, for walkers of all ages, is from December 9-11 on marked trails in the hills of Eilat, with a choice of three levels of walking. For information on the study tour, visit www.melabev.org or contact (02)-583-3555 or Melabev1@bezeqint.net. For information on the Walkathon, visit www.friendsofmelabev.com.