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Agency consults with families about obtaining aid for elderly relatives


A middle-aged Columbia man, whose elderly mother lives independently in a nearby community, was concerned about her weakened physical condition and her inability to get out as much as she once did.

Since the son was working full time and had other family responsibilities, it was difficult for him to visit his mother each day, and he wondered what to do next.

Such a situation is typical of the problems handled by the Eldercare Family Consultation Service in Howard County.

The 1 1/2 -year-old non-sectarian service, offered by the Jewish Family Services program, a nonprofit social service agency sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Howard County, provides one- to two-hour consultations with social workers for families worried about aging relatives. The fee is $80.

"We try to help the adult children sort out their concerns about their parents," said Jessica Rowe, a licensed certified social worker who is employed by the Jewish Family Services. "We determine their needs and provide ways to care for those needs, such as referrals to community or out-of-state agencies. We also want to give emotional support, though we are not a counseling service."

For example, the children may notice that a parent is unable to clean house or to continue driving. Such clients are referred to housekeeping and transportation services in the community, some of which charge fees that are based on a person's income.

Other problems can be medical. Ms. Rowe says that sometimes adult children aren't fully aware of a parent's medical condition, which may be obscured by a parent who does not fully understand his or her doctor.

That's when adult children are advised to get involved by talking with the doctor about their parent's medical condition and medications.

Two or three weeks after a consultation, a follow-up call is made by the social worker to see if there are further things that need to be done.

"Sometimes people put off [getting help] until things get out of control because they think they should be able to do things themselves," Ms. Rowe said. "We let them know where they can get information and help; finding new ways of coping is a struggle and not a weakness."

Ms. Rowe said that many people question whether parents are able to remain in their current living situation.

"We talk about housing changes and the different levels of housing and what a person needs [in their home] in order to stay safe," she said. "Do they need assisted living or a home-repair service? Often, we refer persons to legal guidance in terms of power-of-attorney.

"If the parent is living out-of-state, the child should know what the problems are and what questions to ask [of various agencies]. We also try to hook clients up with social workers in that area; sometimes their evaluations may

be different from the client's perception. . . . and the situation may not be as bad as was originally thought."

When families are worried about an older relative, Ms. Rowe stresses the importance of family team efforts to tackle various problems.

For instance, a son might believe that his mother should remain independent, while his sister might disagree. The social worker will meet with siblings to discuss the situation and encourage family meetings as well.

"We emphasize the importance of addressing the issue to the parent; respect that they are adults and they have a role about decisions in their life," Ms. Rowe said.

In addition to their parent's problems, adult children often are tackling their own emotions. They also may need to care for a parent with whom they never had a close relationship. In such cases, clients themselves may be referred to a therapist.

"When people come to us, they are experiencing emotions like anger, guilt and sadness," Ms. Rowe said.

Those interested in getting further information about Eldercare Family Consultation Service or who want to make an appointment can call Janet Kurland, at (410) 466-9200, Ext. 266.

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