At many nursing homes and other senior residences, a visit from some friendly canines during "pet therapy" is a welcome source of comfort and cheer. But while the furry companions bring smiles and laughter to the majority of residents, they can be a source of terror to aging Holocaust survivors who suffer from post-traumatic stress or Alzheimer's disease. For these individuals, seemingly innocuous stimuli such as the bark of a dog, the sight of a white lab coat or the word "shower" can bring painful memories and elicit panicked responses.
To sensitize caregivers about such issues, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto has produced "Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors," a manual designed for health care professionals, support staff and families. Baycrest is home to about 500 Holocaust survivors.
"The fact that many survivors are now institutionalized in long-term care facilities makes it critically important that health care staff is made aware of their wartime history, vulnerability and special needs," said Paula David, senior social worker and Baycrest's resource project coordinator. "Our aim with this manual is to help caregivers provide the most sensitive care possible and thus enhance quality of life for survivors of wars everywhere."
The manual is touted as the first of its kind, and has received praise from others in the field.
"I carry it around with me at all times," said Paula Fern, director of Jewish Family Service's Pico-Robertson Storefront and the Holocaust Survivors Program. "It's a great resource."
"Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors" is available for order at www.baycrest.org under "Publications." For more information, call (416) 785-2500, ext. 2271.