A Jewish Family and Children’s Services program that offers support for chronically ill seniors who need help navigating the complexities of everyday life — or just a friendly smile and the presence of another human — is offering interested volunteers an in-depth training program in how to provide palliative care.
“It’s this added layer of support for people in this very difficult period,” said program coordinator Rabbi Daniel Isaacson.
For those willing to take on the task, it’s also an opportunity to find meaning in helping someone in the final phase of their life, he said. “It’s a commitment, but also an investment — of oneself.”
The training will be held over four days in November through Seniors at Home, a JFCS service that helps families find and coordinate at-home care for elderly loved ones.
Once trained, volunteers are matched with clients of the agency in the Bay Area. The seniors usually have chronic illnesses but are not in hospice care, and volunteers visit about once a week to offer support with treatment and to spend time with the person in his or her home.
That’s important, as research has found a strong correlation between social interaction and the health and well-being of older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging, lonely people frequently have elevated blood pressure, while those with better markers of social well-being can have lower incidences of Alzheimer’s or other age-related diseases.
Isaacson stressed that palliative care is not the same as hospice care, which is for people with a terminal illness that is not expected to respond to treatment. Palliative care starts when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness and helps with issues of both quality of life and treatment.
“I think people associate palliative care with hospice care, and I think it’s important to understand the distinction,” Isaacson said. “Palliative care is a much broader term.”
That means volunteers through the program are there for the longer haul, which is why JFCS requires a yearlong commitment. And Isaacson said that year usually turns into a longer, deeper relationship.
JCFS has been training palliative volunteers for 10 years, with growing interest in the field. The training is 30 hours over four days. Scholarships are available for the $360 tuition ($500 for professionals as a continuing education course).
Isaacson said the training is “transformative” and comes with a built-in community of other volunteers and professionals. But he notes that it also asks a lot emotionally.
“We want people to know what they’re signing up for,” he said.
Another benefit? “It also invites us to recognize that which is larger within ourselves: the infiniteness within ourselves, the image of God within ourselves,” Isaacson said.
The training program starts Nov. 2 at JFCS, 2150 Post St., S.F. No prior health care experience is needed, but the program does require an application and interview. See seniorsathome.jfcs.org for more information.