Caring for Our Aging Loved Ones: Lessons Learned From COVID

Source: dreamstime stock photo
Source: dreamstime stock photo

The time is now to to put systems in place to care for aging loved ones when you can’t be there.

Beginning with the fifth commandment to “honor thy mother and father,” the desire to care for our parents as they age is deeply rooted in Jewish religion and culture. Historically, it was a family affair: three generations routinely lived together, collectively caring for parents, grandparents and other elderly relatives. But times have changed. People are living longer, and often need assistance for longer periods of time. The so-called “Sandwich Generation” of adult caregivers are stressed, juggling family, career, and caring for an aging parent. Families are spread out across different cities, or even countries. 

In fact, “long-distance caregiving” is an official term, defined by the U.S. National Institute of Aging as living “an hour or more away from a person who needs care.” Here in Israel, it seems that having at least one adult child living in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel) is more the rule than the exception, and for them the journey is considerably longer (and more expensive) than one hour. 

Before Covid-19, we found ways to manage long-distance caregiving. We visited as often as we could. We set up video calls. We relied on family, friends and neighbors. In an emergency, we “stopped, dropped and ran,” and got on a plane. 

Then Covid hit, and in an instant everything changed. Airports closed and then opened – and then closed again. Even if we managed to get to Israel, we couldn’t get into our loved one’s senior residences. Medical appointments were canceled and home care services ceased. Friends and family were themselves quarantined and unable to visit. We checked in by video and stayed in touch with caregivers and facility staff. We looked for creative solutions for social engagement and physical exercise. 

From these two years of on-again, off-again lockdowns, we have learned that there’s no substitute for being physically present, for seeing the situation in real time, for touching and holding a hand. We also learned just how fast and unpredictably things can change, which is why there’s no better time than the present to create a plan for the future. Start by getting to know what resources are available for seniors in Israel, and consider the following: 

Research Resources in the Community
Israel has a wealth of public and private services available for seniors, ranging from in-home care, day centers, home health services, and social activities. Many of these services are highly subsidized or even free, like these Ten Hidden Benefits Many Senior Olim Don’t Know About

Be Smart About Hiring a Caregiver
Arranging for live-in care can be tricky at the moment, as both demand and worry have increased. For guidance on the screening process, use our suggestions on Hiring a Foreign Caregiver? Tips for Hiring the Right Person. Make sure to take an active role in the relationship between your loved one and their caregiver, both to monitor the situation and provide the caregiver with support when needed. We always recommend installing surveillance technology, especially if you live far away and can’t “drop in” unannounced from time to time.

Set Up Remote Access
While Israel’s bureaucracy is notorious, many services can be accessed online including banking, Kupat Holim, and Bituach Leumi. Setting up accounts can be a bit tricky and usually require an Israeli phone number for SMS messages in real time, so take advantage of your visit to Israel to get everything in order. Once you arrange access to Kupat Holim you will be able to schedule phone visits for your loved one at a time you can be on the call.

Legal Planning
Don’t neglect legal documents such as an Ongoing Power of Attorney that will enable you to help with administrative/bureaucratic matters, handle finances, or make medical decisions in the event that a loved one loses cognitive capacity.

Hire a Professional
There is no shame in turning to a professional for help when you can’t do it all yourself, or if someone simply has the skills and experience to do it better. A professional Care Manager can be your “eyes, ears, and feet on the ground,” acting as a “surrogate family member” to assess needs, coordinate care, accompany loved ones to appointments, manage crises, and keep family members informed. Make sure to know which seven critical traits to look for when hiring a geriatric care manager.

As we re-emerge into our daily routine, we need to take time to pause and prepare for the future – no matter what it may hold. Now is the time to make a plan, and put in place a system that will ensure your loved one has everything they need and deserve. 

About the Author
Sharon Beth-Halachmy is Founder and CEO of B'Lev Shalem, a senior care management company in Israel. She and her team of Care Managers work tirelessly to address the full spectrum of needs unique to seniors in Israel, from the routine of daily living to medical oversight, community and advocacy. B'lev Shalem's expert Care Managers ensure maximum independence and quality of life for seniors in Israel, and peace of mind for their families worldwide.
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