Caren Redlich started Senior Direct LLC., a senior care business
Caren Redlich is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in empowering her clients to overcome anxiety, depression, trauma, and other issues. She started Senior Direct LLC., a senior care business that offers aid companion and nurse referrals, local transportation, and classes on fall prevention, how to avoid cognitive decline, and coping with Covid.
The Impossible Dream
Growing up, I always wanted to be a doctor. That desire dissolved the day my science class dissected a worm. “Uh, I think I’ll wait outside in the hall while you’re doing that,” I remember telling my teacher.
Still, I wanted to work in the health field. I went to NYU and got an MA in psychology. Midway through school, however, I realized there was nothing I could do with my degree unless I studied for another five-plus years for a PhD. At that point, eager to start working, I switched my major to organizational psychology.
After school I worked in HR (human resources) for interesting places like NBC and McGraw Hill publishing company. After four years, however, I wasn’t finding the work fulfilling, so I applied to Columbia University School of Social Work and became a licensed clinical social worker.
I had amazing social work internship experiences. I learned a lot about psychology from the patients and the doctors. One of my greatest lessons was how to use common sense and your heart to help patients heal.
In the psychiatric hospital I interned in one summer, one of the patients was a dentist who was diagnosed as bipolar. He was very distraught because the staff had taken away all his belongings (standard protocol) upon admittance, and now he had no change for the pay phone. He wanted to call his patients to inform them he was away and wouldn’t be able to see them for the next month. Somehow, I managed to convince the head psychiatrist that all that was needed to calm him down was to give him a handful of change. It worked.
An important project under consideration is a grief therapy group to hopefully start this November. I’ve been doing grief therapy individually and in groups for many years. This time, I’ll be joined by Sarah Gordon Newcomb (yes, Joey Newcomb’s mom!). Sarah is a certified grief movement guide who will help people physically move through their grief while I field the emotional roller-coaster curveballs people need help coping with.
Two Life-Changing Moves
Diet and exercise.
I know this won’t come as a surprise, but a healthy diet and adequate exercise have changed my life and my clients’ lives. It’s important not only for physical health but emotional and cognitive health as well. Exercising pumps blood and oxygen to the brain, increasing circulation and functionality, thus improving memory, cognition, and mood.
I recommend exercising at least three times a week. Start out walking 10 minutes a day, gradually building it up to 15 minutes daily, then increasing to 25–30 minutes a day.
Regarding diet, you can have your steak and eat it too. Just trim the fat first.
A few years after graduating, I was hired by United Airlines as their in-house social worker to provide counseling for the employees, do management consulting, and teach coping skills to flight attendants.
In 1996, while I was working for United, TWA Flight 800 exploded after takeoff, leaving no survivors. The EAP (employee assistance program) manager for TWA asked me to help them out. UA agreed to lend me to TWA to help with their traumatized employees by conducting individual and group trauma debriefings. It was especially difficult for those who suffered from anxiety prior to the explosion to cope with what happened. I received an award from the NYC council for my work.
Interestingly, 22 years later, I met a wonderful, sharp 90-year-old woman, a resident in the assisted-living facility where I was working at the time. She shared with me that her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter were on that disastrous flight 800, and she was amazed and comforted to hear that I was with the company when it happened.
I was still working for United when 9/11 happened. Many employees were seriously traumatized by the horrific event, and once again I gave trauma debriefing sessions to large groups of flight attendants, customer service reps, pilots, and mechanics.
Of Home and Heart
Although I feel close to all my clients (from the 19-year-olds to the 96-year-olds), my affinity for working with an older population stems from the close relationship I had with my grandparents. I have many fond memories of our times together. I remember sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders as we walked to Macy’s. My grandmother taught me how to play cards. I remember taking trips with my grandparents and singing with them along the way. They often babysat for us, and we often visited them.
That’s why, after seven years with United, followed by eight glorious years at home raising my children, I reentered the work force and went into senior care.
One of my first jobs with the elderly was in a medical adult day care center. In addition to facilitating group therapy for their residents with anxiety, I developed a “Bubby” group. The objective was to bring joy back into the lives of these special elderly women who were bored and lonely at home and who needed cognitive stimulation. We went out for lunch, we painted, we said Tehillim, and we learned. I probably enjoyed the Bubby group almost as much as they did!
After working there for a few years, I met another advocate for seniors, Lauren Gelbtuch. We brainstormed together, and after much work and research, we created Senior Direct NY. Our goals are to provide excellent services for the convenience and support of adult children and professional loving care for their elderly parents.
Aside from my private psychotherapy practice, I run a referral service matching up professional aids, companions, and nurses with seniors. And after hearing too many horror stories of elderly people losing their balance and falling flat on their faces with no one to help them, I decided to help seniors with transportation to their appointments, making sure they have a driver who will take their walker out of the trunk, help them in and out of the car, stay with them throughout the appointment, and then bring them home safely.
I also get many calls for grief counseling. Unfortunately, some of my lovely elderly clients have lost spouses, and tragically, children. They’re heartbroken over their loss, and I help them work through their grief.
Teaching people about cognitive decline is one of my passions. It started when I was home with my small children and not getting much sleep. I knew that not getting enough sleep was par for the course, but losing my memory? I hadn’t signed up for that!
I got scared, as I knew I was way too young for this. I started to do research and learned there was a connection between sleep deprivation and temporary memory loss. I also discovered a connection between lack of exercise and proper diet and memory loss. These ideas weren’t new to me. But unlike most people who’ll read about it and then turn the page, I was motivated to make changes.
I ordered a treadmill, started playing tennis, and began a walking regimen. The difference was like night and day.
Since then, I teach classes on the prevention of cognitive decline to senior groups in assisted living, senior club houses, and senior centers. (I’m scheduled to give a class to New York State Senator Reichlin-Melnick and his senior advisory council committee on healing from cognitive decline after a year of social isolation and preventing further deterioration.)
In my experience, the social isolation from Covid has caused cognitive decline in individuals as young as 50. For seniors, it’s even worse. If someone had beginning stage dementia previous to Covid, their dementia was exacerbated. That’s another reason I’m passionate about this topic. It’s so relevant today, post-Covid, but something can be done to prevent further deterioration.
My Personal Motto
Eventually. Eventually, everything will get done! Don’t get overwhelmed trying to do everything at once. At social work school, the saying is “prioritize and partialize.” Prioritize what must get done now and what can be done later. Then break down what must get done into doable parts.
My dream is to establish a Yad L’Kashish in America. Yad L’Kashish is a senior center in Israel where seniors engage in craft making, e.g., jewelry, challah boards, etc. and then sell their creations. The seniors are happy and proud to be productive and earn income.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 764)
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