By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Retirees, grandparents and other members of the silver-haired set in Niskayuna are an integral part of the community.
They have vibrant social lives that include anything from zumba aerobics at the community center to volunteer positions at their churches and favorite local nonprofits. They march in the Niska-Day parade, tend the library garden and so much more.
They make up a significant chunk of the population, too. The most recent census, in 2010, revealed 13.8 percent of Niskayuna’s population is over the age of 65, about the same as the nation as a whole, 14.1 percent.
But for all those who age gracefully, there are others who struggle. Health problems can flare up, leading independent-spirited older people to need more help than they’re used to. Families, often at a distance, struggle to know what to do next to preserve the happiness of their parents and grandparents.
Jude Rabig hopes to help.
Rabig, a registered nurse who has made her career working in geriatric care, moved to Niskayuna about a year ago.
She also has a Ph.D. in gerontology from Union Institute in Cincinnati.
“That Ph.D. really is about learning how to care for older adults in ways that are sort of more holistic than nursing,” she said.
Rabig has done the same sort of work for a number of organizations over the years, but has just recently decided to try working for herself.
Her business, called ElderLife Coaching, focuses on geriatric care management. Sometimes this profession is called geriatric case management, but she doesn’t like that term.
“I don’t think of people as cases,” she said.
Rabig has lived in Niskayuna for about a year, and currently conducts most of her business from her home on Nicholas Avenue. She’ll open an office in Latham soon, where clients can come to find resources, but plans to continue operating from home as much as possible.
Her roles range from the temporary to the long-term. Sometimes she provides services herself, and other times she helps direct families and caregivers to the right places locally.
“As you know, it’s not an easy thing to be sick in America today,” Rabig said.
People are often transferred multiple times from home to hospital, nursing home to specialist, back and forth endlessly.
“Coordinating all of that for many older adults is really difficult,” she said.
In these situations, Rabig often acts as a liaison for out-of-town family, even making personal hospital visits and reporting back on the condition of the loved one. She helps navigate insurance claims, medical bills and other distressing details that come along with situations that are often already emotionally charged.
“Currently our society is so dispersed, so caregivers can be across the country or three states away and have a hard time keeping track of what’s going on with mom,” she said sympathetically.
In many cases, an injury or illness can get better, allowing the older person to return to his or her original living situation.
But recovery can often take time, and Rabig said it’s important to have help during the healing period, too.
“Maybe they can make breakfast and get up, but not shop or manage their banking,” she said.
The reality is that some changes for older adults aren’t short-term or temporary. But that doesn’t mean their essential personalities have changed.
“I have a particular skill and love for helping people provide good care for folks with dementia or cognitive impairment,” she said. “There’s a way of understanding who they are and how they’re perceiving the world.”
Above all, Rabig’s passion is for helping older adults and their families navigate the changes that come with aging, while still remembering what always stays the same.
Her most important piece of advice for the friends and family of people who suffer cognitive impairment is to change perspective about the relationship.
She suggests shifting attention from what an older loved one understands to what he or she enjoys.
“OK, so maybe she doesn’t remember today that you are her granddaughter, but she might still enjoy reading with you,” Rabig said. “Letting go of the idea that she can’t remember for the moment is what you really need to do, as upsetting as it is.
“We don’t really lose touch with knowing who the people are that we love, internally,” she added.