By Debra Hand
Here in Chappaqua, we pay a great deal of attention to our schools and resources for children, so it can be easy to overlook the needs of older residents who are empty nesters, have relocated here to be near family, or may be living alone. Fortunately, there are a number of services in our area to support this population.
Chappaqua Senior Citizens Program
The Town of New Castle Senior Citizens Program provides a wide range of activities and support services for older residents. Its Mission Statement says it will “promote and enhance the quality of life of adults 60 years of age and over, living in the community … to enhance their dignity, support their independence, and continue their involvement in community life.”
From its comfortable space on the lower level of the Community Center on Senter Street, the Seniors Program provides coffee and newspapers every morning, offers poker, bridge and mah-jongg games, knitting groups, weekly pizza and movie gatherings and quarterly birthday celebrations. Special programs range from Spanish language classes to Facebook training. Fitness programs are popular, offering classes in chair aerobics, flexibility, yoga, tennis, and strength training, balance and toning. Trips include visits to the New York Botanical Gardens, baseball games, Broadway shows, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and outings with the New Castle Historical Society.
Those with more significant needs can take advantage of support services to help navigate a variety of health and daily living challenges, including income tax preparation, legal concerns, use of electronic devices, and monthly blood pressure screenings by CVAC.
For those less mobile seniors, the Center offers twice-weekly transportation (for a minimal fee) for doctors’ appointments, shopping and personal errands. Up to two daily meals, prepared at the Pleasantville Senior Center, can be delivered by volunteers, a service currently being utilized by 10-15 residents per day. Residents living alone can receive daily RUOK (“are you okay”) automated phone calls that trigger an alert and safety check if not answered. And a magnetized “File of Life” containing vital medical and emergency contact information can quickly provide ambulance personnel with data that can prove lifesaving.
None of these programs would be possible without Frances DiMase, the full-time Senior Coordinator. A Licensed Master Social Worker, DiMase “wears two hats,” as she is also responsible for programming and volunteers, who she called “crucial, have stepped up, and it’s welcomed!” DiMase noted that she receives inquiries from adult children living both nearby and nationally about programs for senior parents living here. “People find [the Center] very comfortable,” she added. All of the Center’s programming can be found online, and in the bi-monthly newsletter, the Senter Street Spotlight, available online or delivered by mail.
My Second Home: The Next Step
Sometimes the Senior Center services cannot meet a senior’s needs. Chappaqua’s Mary Whalen recalls when her mother, who had been living with her for 11 years and had been quite independent, succumbed to fear and confusion following a fall and broken hip, and was no longer comfortable visiting the Senior Center.
After consulting with friends dealing with similar issues, Mary enrolled her mother in My Second Home, an adult day services program in Mount Kisco. My Second Home “offers older adults a safe, supervised, home-like environment with wellness activities, personal care, excellent nutrition, and transportation services,” and is staffed with individuals trained in geriatric care and knowledgeable about the issues faced by older adults and their families. “They’re absolutely lovely with her,” said Whalen, of the care her mother has been receiving for the last two to three years. Whalen noted that her mother initially attended the day program three days a week, but the lack of consistency was only more confusing so now she attends six days a week.
According to Whalen, the daily schedule provides a “very stimulating environment,” including music and pet therapy, read-aloud book groups, arts and crafts, old movies and bingo. Gentle exercise and yoga classes cater to those “in wheelchairs to people dancing around the room.” Whalen said that 30-40 people attend daily, with three different activities taking place at any given time. She receives a monthly menu with options; healthy breakfast, snacks and lunch are served daily. A hairdresser even comes in once a month. In addition, the innovative JEWEL Program (Joining Elders with Early Learners), brings together My Second Home adults and young children attending the adjacent Mount Kisco Child Care Center for activities such as crafts, yoga, stories, songs and horticulture.
“Without a doubt, [My Second Home] has improved my mom’s quality of life, and it’s a huge help to me knowing that she is safe,” said Whalen. She added that the combination of paid professionals and volunteers creates a well-staffed environment of “people who know what they’re doing.”
Caring for the Caregivers
Often caregivers themselves require support because of the emotional or physical toll taken by caring for a loved one. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) provides such services for these family caregivers of patients utilizing VNSNY services. When the Visiting Nurse identifies strain, referral is made to the organization’s caregiver coach/social worker.
“Following the formal assessment of the caregiver’s own needs and abilities, there is ongoing one-on-one counseling to help them develop strategies for improving their health, reducing strain, identifying sources of support, and ensuring a viable long term plan for caregiving,” according to Judy Santamaria, the Director of Family Caregiver Support Program of VNSNY. It is not unusual, she said, for caregivers to either neglect their own health or personal needs, or to suffer guilt or depression watching loved ones experience pain. Once a need for additional support or training is identified, there might be an initial meeting in person before weekly telephone support begins.
Similarly, the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center at Northern Westchester Hospital Center is “a private sanctuary during the very demanding and stressful times of providing care for your loved one, whether they are hospitalized at NWH, at another facility, or at home,” according to its website. The Center provides a comfortable facility to relax and share or obtain information, and offers support groups, caregiver coaching, and counseling support via social worker or referral to community resources. Founder Marian Hamilton of Armonk, New York was recently awarded the United Way of Westchester and Putnam Quality of Life Award for her service to the Center.
To volunteer, or for more information about the New Castle Senior Center contact Frances DiMase or visit www.mynewcastle.org (Departments/Recreation/Senior Programs). For more information about My Second Home, VNSNY or the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center, visit www.fsw.org/our-programs/my-second-home, and www.nwhc.net.
Debra Hand is a longtime editor and writer for Inside Chappaqua.
Changing the Venue without Losing your Mind
Moving is stressful at any point in our lives. As our parents age and decide to leave a home they may have lived in for decades, it becomes especially daunting. We may be unavailable to help with this process due to physical location, career and family commitments, and challenging family dynamics.
If getting aging family members settled into a new home seems like a Sisyphean task, there are services available in many regions that can help. These professionals know what to do, how to plan, and who to call to make preparations and can help any family member with some difficult decisions in your absence.
Sensitivity must be the priority, given the many challenges of moving from a home filled with countless memories. The goal is to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible for everyone involved.
Karen Harvey, of Florida-based Senior Transition Solutions, says professionals like her “coordinate all the resources to get the job done. Every detail can be properly managed, from hiring a mover to sifting through years of accumulated possessions, donation coordination, packing and unpacking, setting up the new kitchen, hanging the pictures, organizing the closets, and even making beds.”
This kind of on-site help can help take the worry and work out of the entire process. What may feel like an insurmountable undertaking becomes a manageable stress-free event for everyone.
To find a professional certified relocation and transition specialist to assist aging family members with their move, visit www.crtscertification.com. This professional organization offers a database of those persons certified to assist and also provides links and FAQs on helping families navigate this challenging and difficult process.
-Emily Haft Bloom