International Elder Care Share
Can you imagine a push button computerized toilet, complete with clock, that blows dry and even swishes water to disguise sounds? This is just one of the goodies discovered by a team of 11 elder care professionals who visited Japan for an international elder care information exchange. The trip was headed up by Judy Weitzner, former director of Contra Costa County’s Senior Information and Referral program. Weitzner has spearheaded international sharing with Japan for the past 6 years, and the Japanese team will visit here in early July.
The Contra Costa delegation, who jokingly refer to themselves as the “Geishas,” included Kathy Radke from Senior Peer Counseling, elder law attorney Trudi Riley, Naomi Gary from Montego Heights Assisted Living, Valorie Van Dahl from Adult Protective Services, home health aide trainer Barbara Gearhart, Bob Rinehart from JFK University, and Alzheimer’s Specialist Carol Bibeau. As we all talked prior to a CCTV television taping about the trip, each person, dressed in kimonos, expressed similar reasons for traveling. They asked “What can we learn from the Japanese? What commonalties do we share?” The following are snippets from their two weeks of discoveries.
- In assisted living or nursing homes, patient to caregiver ratios are much better than here: 3 patients to 1 caregiver as opposed to a range of 7–16 patients to 1 caregiver in the US
- Attention to detail is outstanding — meals look and taste wonderful; nursing homes are clean and harmonious; personal care and grooming is extensive, slow paced and caring; art activities are sophisticated and therapeutic
- There are more male caregivers
- Nursing homes have spiritual rooms for prayer and reflection
- The Japanese have just started a mandatory, nationwide long term care insurance program, starting at age 40
We are ahead in these areas:
- Understanding how ongoing family dynamics impact an elder’s adjustment to care facilities
- Encouraging the open discussion of feelings by both care recipients and caregivers
- Well-developed Adult Protective Services, Medicare and Medi-Cal systems
- Accessible community services
- Feminism issues — the paucity of female Japanese professionals encountered admitted being awestruck by “their numerous well educated, dynamic and powerful female visitors” who were professionals and who traveled with minimal male company
All of the “geishas” returned home with insights for their elder care specialties and all were unanimous in saying “the trip was life altering.” With tears in her eyes, Naomi Gary describes a poignant moment experienced by her 79-year-old mother, Melba Margolis, a retired social worker daubed the “matriarch” of the trip. Margolis found herself face to face with a Japanese matriarch. Both were young during the World War Two and both carried memories of being enemies. Neither could speak the other’s language. Yet each quietly bowed to the other, extended a hand, smiled and said “Let’s get together.”
You can catch a glimpse of the trip on Weiztner’s Senior Information Journal. CCTV, Tuesday Night, July 2 at 8:00 PM and Thursday July 5, 9:30 AM.