Cheryl Condos doesn’t hesitate to live alone. She has been doing this for almost 30 years.
Before moving to Saratoga Springs over ten years ago, she was on a month-long trip to England when the British government misplaced her papers; she ended up staying for four years. She lived near the famous White Cliffs of Dover in Folkestone on the south-east coast of the country and spent her time exploring the area, traveling the country and talking about British history with locals in pubs .
“It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” she said of her time on the British coast.
She was one of the first residents to move into the Westview Senior Apartments in Saratoga about 15 years ago and has enjoyed the early years forming a community of like-minded residents.
But life gets more difficult as we get older, and Condos has struggled with many medical conditions, including limited vision, weak muscles, tremors, and has occasionally been injured in falls at home. During a recent episode of pneumonia-like symptoms, she had a buildup of fluid in her ears, limiting her hearing and interfering with her balance.
“For me, losing another meaning with my limited vision was too much,” she said. “My hearing is as sharp as an eagle’s eye can see, and I’m really counting on it.” ”
Condos said she maintains extensive knowledge of the placement of items in her apartment, navigating her home with tunnel vision. The delivery of a recent package, however, changed the landscape of her living room just enough that she stumbled and fell hard to the ground.
“It unsettles me,” she said. “I really need to know where everything is.
She sustained large bruises from the fall, and although she did not break any bones, she suspected that she may have contracted a muscle.
“The problem is when I fall I can’t get up, it takes me hours to get up because I don’t have the strength in my legs,” she said.
Recovery also takes time.
“It took me a week to rest,” she said.
One of Condos’ first calls after the accident was to Phil Di Sorbo, who runs a new program at the Saratoga Senior Center, which Condos has been visiting for years. The centre’s new Life Transitions for Seniors program aims to provide additional support to older people “facing changes in their lives due to serious illness or worsening condition”.
HIGH-TOUCH, NOT HIGH-TECH
Di Sorbo and Lois Celeste, executive director of the center for the elderly, noted that the isolation and fear of the pandemic has strongly affected the elderly. Di Sorbo said researchers believe the pandemic has actually accelerated symptoms of dementia in some people.
“Now that we are coming out of this phase, the needs are everywhere,” Celeste said.
The group of volunteers of the new program intervenes to assess the particular life situation of an elderly person and the obstacles that could hamper their medical care. They complement this care with a supportive team approach to ensure the older adult understands their medical decisions, adapts to new treatments and has a long-term aging plan.
“We will meet with you and your caregivers to understand your current needs, the gaps in your future plans and what matters most to your quality of life,” according to the brief summary of the program the center sent out in a newsletter. earlier in the spring.
Di Sorbo, a longtime expert in end-of-life care and support, former head of The Community Hospice Inc. and director of palliative care at Ellis Medicine, has assembled a team of volunteers with a range of experience. and expertise.
The team includes a retired nurse with respite experience and the ability to translate Spanish; a local psychologist specializing in the management of dementia; a clinical nurse specialist drawn to the program by personal experience; and a woman with a religious background and contacts developed over years of advocacy with the state government.
Bill Vacca, a retired cardiologist with 40 years of experience at Schenectady, including as chief of medicine at St. Clare Hospital, volunteered after a decades-long relationship with Di Sorbo. He said the program is a vital addition to the work of practicing physicians, giving seniors the kind of help they need to give their medical care the best possible chance for work.
“Much of what is done at the Saratoga Seniors Center is a necessary complement to palliative care,” he said.
He pointed out the daily challenges that can interfere with a person’s medical care: loneliness and isolation, difficulty obtaining medication, lack of transportation, poor nutrition and inability to improve, risk of injury and much more. Doctors and other health care professionals may not have the capacity to ensure these issues are resolved, but they are having an undeniable impact on medical care, he said.
“These are all critical social determinants of care that dramatically affect the success rate of standard medical care, but for too long they have been overlooked,” he said.
This is where Di Sorbo’s program attempts to step in, assessing each person’s specific situation and needs and developing a plan to deal with short-term barriers – like transportation and nutrition – while working. with the senior to deal with critical long-term decisions – such as wills, powers of attorney, and the type of end-of-life treatment they wish to receive.
“It’s high-touch not high-tech,” Vacca said.
The program is a natural extension of palliative care to which Vacca and Di Sorbo have devoted much of their careers. Although often viewed as comfort care provided in the last days of life, palliative care can extend for years to patients with chronic illnesses that will shape the last years of their lives. Palliative care works with patients with severe illness to manage both the symptoms and the stress of living with the illness.
Vacca said the “miracles we have in medicine” are amazing tools for health workers, but they cannot solve all medical problems on their own. Low-tech supports like a volunteer visiting an elderly person to offer conversation and some housekeeping are also essential.
“The thing that is often overlooked is how to complete [medical treatments] with the human touch, ”said Vacca. “As a young doctor, we are often so engrossed in the technical part of the care, the tests and the treatments, the surgeries, they become energy intensive… but it is only with experience that you can see how they are effective. can be amplified by addressing the social determinants of care. . ”
Vacca, who does not provide medical care in her volunteer role, can act as a medical advisor in a way, helping older people in the program understand and process what their doctors tell them and help them make all the decisions. important to their care.
“I help them interpret what is going on in their health care,” he said.
Di Sorbo summed up in three words the kind of support they provide to seniors through the program: “Everything they need,” he said.
Condos, which during a career working on criminal justice issues in New York City helped establish one of the first rape relief centers, immediately saw something interesting in the brief announcement of the program, knowing she had decisions to make but not knowing where to start.
“As soon as you published the newsletter the next day I jumped on it,” she said. “I was looking for any type of program that would solve the problems I needed… My god, this is the thing I have been looking for for years.”
She said she hoped to stay in her apartment as long as possible, but knew there might be a time when she needed to move with more help. She said she knew what kind of long-term care she wanted, but needed help formalizing those decisions.
“I needed information on how to do this, that and the other,” she said. “There is so much involved in terms of health, legal issues, hospitals. It was very important to be able to understand this and make a decision on what I wanted and what I didn’t want.
Di Sorbo opens a new case for each of the program’s clients, first assessing the daily challenges that need to be addressed immediately, and then reflecting on the bigger picture.
“She had urgent needs because she was falling and was isolated,” he said of Condos. “And in the long run: how do you get the support you need? Whether it’s a mess in the apartment or an advanced directive to make sure she got what she wanted, in our schedule we untangle the layers to suit the person and their needs. and give her the means to get what she wants.
Condos described immense relief after meeting Di Sorbo and sorting out important medical and life decisions.
“It was like there were these strings hanging down, and I got it, but I didn’t know how to put them together,” she said. “I feel completely at peace just understanding these basic things, and these are basic things. It is complete relief, absolute relief. It is a peace that I cannot describe.
“You are taking charge of your life,” Di Sorbo told Condos. “You are an empowered person. “
After her recent fall, Di Sorbo made sure to make the necessary medical appointments and ordered a device that will connect Condos to emergency medical services if she falls again and needs help.
“Serious illness can be so overwhelming, and it really doesn’t have to be,” said Di Sorbo.
The Seniors Center is looking for volunteers and seniors who are interested in the program. Di Sorbo can be contacted at 518-584-1621 ext. 206.
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