Caring for Our Elders

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Ellen Geller Kamaras

There is a clear  mitzvah in the Torah (Vayikra 19:32) to take care of our elders. “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your Gd. I am the Lrd.”

Let’s explore the realities facing our older family and community members, and look at how we can fulfill the mitzvah to care for them.

America is graying. The U.S. population is increasingly becoming more dominated by individuals aged 65 and older.

When is someone considered “old”?  We tend to shy away from the label “old” for several reasons. Calling someone old can be considered impolite, as “old” can have negative connotations of weakness or obsolescence.

When Does Old Age Start?

A 2016 Marist Poll surveyed adults, asking if they viewed a 65-year-old as old. Its results were that sixty percent of the youngest respondents, between 18 to 29, said yes.  However, that percentage decreased the older the respondents.  The closer individuals get to 65 themselves, the later they thought old age starts. Only 16 percent of people sixty or older considered 65 old.

Most older adults don’t look at themselves as elderly, yours truly included, as the word “elderly” conjures up an image of frailty.  Some dislike the term “senior” since it singles older adults out as different.

Some say 70 is the new 50. As I approach this milestone, I wholeheartedly agree with this positive view of aging.  I am so grateful to Hashem that I feel like I am only fifty.  I sing Moda Ani every morning, thanking Hashem that I can get out of bed, exercise, and can continue to take classes and learn new skills.

Diverse Experiences, Diverse Challenges

Ina Jaffe, an NPR reporter, says older adults have the most diverse life experiences of any age group. These experiences may include working, exercising at the gym, retiring and traveling the globe, volunteering, raising grandchildren, and unfortunately struggling with chronic disabilities.

Many challenges face our aging population. The top two biggest concerns are financial security and health care expenditures.

In addition to our older adults’ financial needs and health care costs, other serious concerns include loneliness, lost sense of purpose, difficulties with everyday tasks, transportation, disease, elder abuse, financial predators, and adjusting to technological changes.

Let’s Help Our Older Family and Community Members to Plan for the Future

We must partner with our aging parents, friends, and community members to plan for their future, when medical conditions may worsen and their mobility and vision declines.  A top priority is determining where they will live when they retire, or when their health deteriorates.

According to AARP, more than fifty percent of adults turning 65 years old will require long-term support and services in their lifetime.

There are many agencies available to contact for eldercare planning.  AARP, an interest group that focuses on issues affecting those over fifty, is a great place to start.  Another resource is the NYC Department for the Aging, or in New Jersey, the Department of Human Services, Aging Services.

We are so blessed to live in a community that has fabulous and expansive resources for our aging adults. Sephardic Bikur Holim and Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services are family services organizations that can assist with planning for one’s loved ones. They  run many activities for older adults and offer support groups for caregivers.  Sephardic Community Center also provides exciting and meaningful programming.  I led a Finding Your Spark workshop at the SCC before Rosh Hashanah in 2016, for its New Beginnings group for widows.

The Pluses of Socially Engaging Our Older Adults

We must also engage our aging adults. The engagement of our older adults  helps them to age gracefully and to live in a safe, supportive, nurturing, and stimulating environment. If you can play a part in helping older individuals in your life to reimagine their older adulthood and transition as they age, you can increase their life expectancy and mental and physical health.

Providing opportunities for our older/retired adults to learn, grow, reset their daily lives, find new purpose, and share their knowledge and skills is the key to helping them to live longer and stay mentally and physically fit.

Researchers concluded that the aging brain is as capable of learning new things as a younger brain. Socialization is essential for the psychological wellness of older adults.   

Volunteering is a wonderful way for older adults to keep their minds sharp, share their talents, find purpose and connection, and feel useful.  Check out the ENGAGE JEWISH SERVICE CORPS at the JCC where older adults use their passions, skills, and leadership abilities to serve the community.  

Companionship  

As our older adults age, the mental and physical benefits of human connection and companionship grow stronger.  Socially active older adults enjoy many benefits. Companionship is literally good for the heart!  Loneliness and isolation increase the risk for heart disease by 29 percent.  

Older individuals who have a robust social life can look forward to a longer and healthier life, prevention of dementia, loneliness, and depression, faster recovery from injury and illness, fewer falls, and peace of mind for their families. 

Intergenerational Relationships – Win-Win 

Intergenerational relationships can benefit both younger people and older adults.  Older adults can serve as a mentor, provide guidance and life lessons, and can act as a life coach, offering a safe space for younger individuals. On the flip side, an older person can see through a new lens when interacting with a young friend, colleague, or adult relative.

Have you had lunch with your grandparent recently or taken them to a shiur or an event?

How about joining your grandparent for a yoga class?

Or showing them how to install the latest iPhone apps to ensure they can communicate as needed?

A grandparent can be an excellent mentor in reviewing a grandchild’s college application essays or brainstorming other decisions.

Many employers have failed to implement a knowledge transfer/succession plan when boomers retire. Boomers have valuable know-how, information, and skills. They can serve a vital role as consultants or volunteers in organizations.

Caring for Our Older Adults – a Mitzvah and a Privilege 

In truth, caring for our aging adults is a huge mitzvah and a privilege.  It’s an opportunity to return the gift of their care for us as children in the same manner that they nurtured us.  

Let’s focus on the life lessons we can learn from our aging adults and avoid treating age as a handicap or treating aging adults as second-class citizens.  They need to be seen and heard.  And please don’t forget to smile.   

Place in Sidebar: Top Concerns of the Elderly

A recent survey from AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and Politico found that the most important issues for seniors are: 

Health Care – Obtaining expensive prescription drugs 

Medicare – Expanding Medicare to offer increased and better coverage for older adults 

Social Security – Ensuring that the system remains solvent for future generations 

Care Options – Providing increased funding for home care and assisted living options 

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights.  She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).