By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – If there’s one thing John and Debbie Shulansky can be sure of, it’s that they will receive calls from families in crisis. An elderly parent falls, or a caregiver doesn’t work out. What should they do? The founders and principals of EldersChoice of Connecticut, LLC are both experienced veterans in the field of eldercare, and as they describe their new service, they can’t help but offer advice on how best to plan for aging family members.
The Shulanskys recently opened EldersChoice of Connecticut, a non-medical homecare support service started in Maryland and Pennsylvania in 2006, built on Jewish care values. They provide live-in caregivers to clients throughout the state.
Tip number one: “Don’t wait until the last minute; start thinking about eldercare now,” says John, who has served on the boards of trustees and directors at Hebrew Healthcare since it was the Hebrew Home on Tower Avenue in Hartford. He is currently on the human relations committee, and serves at Hartford Hospital as a corporator, a sort of ambassador who connects community residents to the hospital. “There are waiting lists at nursing homes,” he says. “The rumor that you can give more money to get in may still be circulating, but that practice isn’t legal.”
It’s a fact that people are living longer and don’t want to leave their homes as they age, says Debbie Shulansky, a Registered Nurse who has served more than 20 years on the board at Hebrew Healthcare. She is now on the institutional review board that oversees all medical issues at the hospital. “With adult children caring for aging parents, the roles are reversed and most people don’t want to think about the end of their parents’ lives. But in our profession, we have seen people get more out of life, and even a longer life, with a caregiver at home.”
The EldersChoice model only offers 24/7, in-home care. “Everybody will tell you they provide that, but that usually involves more than one individual coming into a home environment,” says John. “We provide a single, consistent caregiver for a minimum of two weeks straight, and usually up to 12 or 13 weeks. After a short break, the caregiver returns to the same home.”
If an elder wants to stay at home, and is now able-bodied, there are proactive steps that can be taken to make the home environment safer, Debbie says, akin to child-proofing. Install a shower railing. Remove small throw-rugs and bathmats that might cause a tripping hazard. Get electric cords out of the way.
Tip number two: “Talk it out,” says Debbie. “What do you want to do in terms of your parents’ care and your own care? Do you want a Do Not Resuscitate order? Do you want ‘heroic measures’ implemented to save your life? Decide who’s in charge to make these decisions. You can’t wait until there’s a crisis, but a lot of people do. Who will manage your finances? It’s much easier to start this discussion with your parents while they can answer these questions, instead of trying to figure it all out when they are unable to.” Just because you’ve had the discussion doesn’t mean you’ll need to implement the decisions tomorrow, Debbie says; it’s simply smart to be prepared.
The rule of thumb in eldercare is that when you start having concerns about a parent, you need to talk to an eldercare professional, says Debbie. The Shulanskys give a lot of advice to those just starting to think about options, John says. “We know the system, which is the hardest part to navigate,” says Debbie. “We can suggest medical professionals to address any concern a client might have.”
Most important to the EldersChoice model, John says, are Jewish care values. “We both grew up with a lot of respect for elderly, and in our respective professional lives, learned to put dignity and quality of care above all else. We work with our caregivers to adapt to our clients’ lifestyle and help them have as full and independent a life as possible.”