Nina Wolff was a vibrant, active woman, who loved to play golf and cards. She had an active social life in Florida. But over the course of nine years, starting in the early 2000s, dementia robbed her of that life. Finally she was bedridden, hooked up to a feeding tube, with aides watching her around the clock.
Her adult children, George, Robert, and Alma, struggled with the toll the disease took on their mother. They struggled equally with the toll their mother’s disease took on their father, Samuel, who insisted on caring for his wife at their home in Verona.
“We saw what it was doing to him and it was difficult for us during the whole, gradual decline,” George Wolff said. Even though they lived close by, it seemed there was always a problem, and finding all the information and the doctors they needed was not always a smooth process.
“My dad felt kind of alone as a primary caregiver,” Wolff said. “It really aged him as well as aging my mom. The disease really affected him as much as it did her, and we found that we were kind of adrift.”
Samuel died first, when he was in his 90s, and Nina died shortly after her husband did. The three Wolff children decided they wanted to do something in their parents’ memories that would help other people who are struggling with similar problems. Last fall, they made a gift to Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, which established the Sam and Nina Wolff Caregivers Program.
The caregiver support program will provide both practical and emotional support to people caring for an elderly relative who is suffering from dementia. Services provided will include counseling, family consultations, support groups for spouses and adult children, and referrals to community resources that JFS does not have. That’s according to Leah Kauffman, the agency’s executive director. The money is meant to seed the program over two years, allowing JFS to hire professionals to get it off the ground, she said.
There are a host of issues with which caregivers must cope, Kaufman said. It can be difficult for relatives who live far away to arrange and manage care. Home safety is a concern, and so is finding the rights sort of care, whether it is in the patient’s home or in an assisted living residence. Emotional issues are tough as well, as spouses and adult children watch someone they love become less and less capable.
“There are bereavement issues, as you watch someone you’ve lived with your entire life, and slowly see this person disappearing,” Kaufman said.
The idea of a resource center to honor their parents’ memory appealed to the Wolff siblings. The program could provide an all-in-one experience for people coping with the stress of caring for someone with dementia, George Wolff said.
“We wanted to have one place families, especially caregivers, could go to find the resources they need – social workers, doctors, to help them out even though this is usually a battle that doesn’t end well,” he said. “The caregiver really has to feel there are resources out there to help them. That’s what we wanted to put out there, that this is a place to go to for families facing this terrible, terrible disease.”