Choice for caregiver: Daughter or Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor


Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor is at the center of a spat between his Filipina caregiver and the Australian government, which has made it clear that if she leaves the country she will not be permitted to return.

Elenita Fernandez, 43, was in Australia on a tourist visa when she began caring for Helen Roberts. Following the death of Roberts eight years ago, Fernandez fulfilled a promise to her to look after her husband, Richard Roberts, a Holocaust survivor who is now 103 years old.

But April 24 marks the 18th birthday of Fernandez’s daughter Manlyn Mae and the caregiver is desperate to be with her in the Philippines to mark the occasion. Lawyers have requested that Fernandez’s visa be changed to one that will allow her to reenter Australia, but the matter remains in the hands of the government.

Fernandez lives in the same house as Roberts, which is in Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s political district in Sydney. A spokesman for the prime minister told J-Wire: “We can assure Elenita that the due process is underway but it can take a year. Until a decision is reached she is welcome to stay in Sydney and care for Mr. Roberts.”

Richard Roberts told JTA: “I arrived in Sydney in 1938 from Vienna having obtained a permit in England. I spent time in both Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps before being released and given a short time to leave the country. Australia has been wonderful to me. Now I am hoping that Lenie will be allowed to travel and return. We have bought a return air fare to show that she is coming back.”

As her daughter’s birthday approaches, Fernandez must decide if she is to risk traveling to the Philippines to be with her daughter and possibly forsake the opportunity of continuing to look after the man she has tended night and day for eight years.

“We are begging the government to give us a chance to let me go and return to look after Dick,” she told JTA.

When asked if she would instead join her daughter for her birthday on Skype, Fernandez replied: “My daughter has made it clear she does not want to celebrate her birthday without me there.”

Who Will Care for the Caregivers?


About five years ago, Nina Dayan noticed that her husband’s moods began alternating between anger and depression. Then her husband started doing strange things: He would hide her keys, steal money from her purse and share his social security number with strangers on the phone.

Eventually, his Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed. The diagnosis explained her husband’s strange behavior, but it didn’t make things any easier for Dayan. She remained on constant guard to ensure he didn’t answer the phone, open the mail or touch the checkbook.

“I had to sleep with one eye open,” said Dayan, 77. “It was making me a nervous wreck.”

Although she was suffering from her own ailments, including back and knee problems, Dayan’s caregiving prevented her from seeking medical attention for her own ailments. Dayan’s actions illustrate the approach taken by most caregivers: Ironically, those who devote themselves to caring for others tend to neglect their own well-being.

“Caregivers take themselves out of the circle of care in order to focus on their loved one,” said Gary Barg, founder and editor-in-chief of Today’s Caregiver magazine. “We want to make sure our loved ones are getting the rest they need, but we never sleep. We want to make sure our loved ones get the care they need, but when’s the last time a caregiver ever went to a doctor?”

This topic and others will be explored at The Los Angeles Fearless Family Caregiver Conference in Carson on June 28, sponsored by Today’s Caregiver magazine along with the City of L.A. Department of Aging and the L.A. County Area Agency on Aging. Keynote speaker Barg said the conference will not only provide practical information for attendees, but help them overcome the sense of isolation so typical of caregivers.

Given the sheer number of caregivers in the United States, the issue of caregiver well-being presents a serious challenge. According to AARP, more than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to friends and family. That number will continue to rise as the population ages. Currently, family caregivers provide about 80 percent of the assistance required by those who need help with daily activities such as bathing and dressing, taking medications and paying bills.

Caregivers span all ages, although statistically the average caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is married and employed outside the home. Caregivers may tend to someone older, like a parent; close in age, such as a spouse; or younger, like a child. Sometimes, as in the case of the sandwich generation, they provide care to multiple generations simultaneously.

Whatever their particular situation, caregivers face a host of common challenges, including financial and legal issues, need for respite and lack of information about existing community resources such as counseling services, adult day care centers and home-health care agencies. In addition, they experience depression at twice the rate of the general population. (The rate jumps to six times for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other brain-related impairments.)

Barg said the gathering shows caregivers that “there are other people in the community going through what you’re going through. It’s important to be around others.”

Barg also urges caregivers to see their role as a job, even if it is a labor of love. This entails learning as much as possible, attending conferences and support groups and communicating with members of the patient’s health care team.

“The more you treat yourself as a professional and the more you care for yourself, the better job you can do for your loved one,” he said.

As for Nina Dayan, she found help at the Eichenbaum Health Center at the Freda Mohr Senior Service Center on Fairfax Boulevard. In addition to exercising there three times a week, Dayan attends lectures and programs and participates in a support group for people whose spouses have Alzheimer’s.

Eight months ago, Dayan placed her 85-year-old husband in an assisted living facility in Santa Monica.

“I took care of him until I couldn’t anymore, and had to take care of myself,” she said. She has since undergone cataract surgery on both eyes, and will have knee replacement surgery this month.

Dayan said her husband has adjusted to his new living arrangement and has made many friends. Now, he spends his day socializing instead of bickering with her. She still worries about his health and her own, as well as how long her finances will hold out. But her relief at finding an interim solution is apparent. As Dayan puts it, “I’m breathing again.”

The L.A. Fearless Family Caregiver Conference will take place on Tuesday, June 28, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Carson Center. 801 East Carson St., Carson. For more information or to register, call (800) 829-2734 or visit www.caregiver.com.

Caregiver Resources:

California Caregiver Resource Centers: www.cacrc.org/californiacrc

AARP: www.aarp.org

Family Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org

Jewish Family Service: www.jfsla.org

 

Elder Rage: What I Know Now


For 11 years. I begged my obstinate elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he adamantly insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I hired to help him said, “Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father — his temper is impossible to handle. I don’t think you’ll be able to get him to accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”

My father had always been 90 percent wonderful, but that raging temper was a doozy. He had never turned his temper on me before, but I’d never gone against his wishes either. When my mother nearly died from my father’s inability to care for her, I had to step in and risk his wrath to save her life — having no idea that in the process it would nearly cost me my own.

Jekyll & Hyde

I spent months nursing my mother back to “health,” while my father, who was nice to me one minute, would get mad about some trivial thing and throw me out of the house the next. I was stunned to see him get so upset over the most ridiculous things, even running the washing machine could cause a tizzy, and there was no way to reason with him. It was so heart wrenching to have my once-adoring father turn against me.

I took my father to his doctor and was astonished that he could act completely normal when he needed to. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor looked at me like I was the crazy one. Much later I found out that my father had told her not to listen to anything I said, because all I wanted was his money. (Boy do I wish he had some.)

My father had never laid a hand on me my whole life, but one day he choked me for adding HBO to his cable package, even though he had eagerly consented to it just a few days before. Terrified and devastated, I frantically called the police who took him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. I was stunned when they quickly released him, saying they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Similar incidents occurred four times.

I couldn’t leave him alone with my mother, because she’d surely die from his inability to care for her. I couldn’t get the doctors to believe me, because he was always so normal in front of them. I couldn’t get medication to calm him, and even when I did, he refused to take it and flushed it down the toilet. I couldn’t get him to accept a caregiver, and even when I did, no one would put up with him for very long. I couldn’t place my mother in a nursing home — he’d just take her out. I couldn’t put him in a home — he didn’t qualify. They both refused any mention of assisted living and, legally, I couldn’t force them. I became trapped at my parents’ home for nearly a year trying to solve the endless crisis — crying rivers daily, and infuriated with an unsympathetic medical system that wasn’t helping me appropriately.

What’s Wrong?

You don’t need a doctorate to know something is wrong, but you do need a doctor who can diagnose and treat it properly. Finally, I stumbled upon a compassionate geriatric dementia specialist who performed a battery of blood, neurological and memory tests, along with PET scans. He ruled out the numerous reversible dementias, and then you should have seen my face drop when he diagnosed stage-one Alzheimer’s in both of my parents — something that all of their other doctors missed entirely.

What I’d been coping with was the beginning of dementia, which is intermittent and appears to come and go. My father was still socially adjusted to never show his “Hyde” side to anyone outside the family. Even with the beginning of dementia, it was amazing that he could still be extremely manipulative and crafty.

Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia, and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified early, there are medications that can slow the progression and keep a person in stage one longer and delay full-time care.

In addition to slowing the dementia process, the doctor also prescribed anti-depressants, which made a huge difference in my parents’ moods. My father also received anti-aggression medication, which smoothed out his damaged impulse control. Once their brain chemistries were properly balanced, I was better able to implement behavioral techniques to manage the changing behaviors. Then, I was finally able to get my father to accept a caregiver, and with the use of adult day health care for them, and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.

One out of every 10 persons by the age of 65 gets Alzheimer’s, and nearly one out of every two by age 85. Had I been shown the “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s,” I would have realized a year earlier what was happening. If this rings true for you about someone you love, I urge you to reach out for help sooner than later.


Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

1. Recent memory loss that affects job skills

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

3. Problems with language

4. Disorientation of time and place

5. Poor or decreased judgment

6. Problems with abstract thinking

7. Misplacing things

8. Changes in mood or behavior

9. Changes in personality

10. Loss of initiative

Jacqueline Marcell is an author, radio host, national speaker and advocate
for eldercare awareness and reform. She wrote “Elder Rage, or Take My Father…
Please! How to Survive Caring For Aging Parents” (Impressive Press, 2001). Visit