A Patient Advocate's View

It’s never too late to live.

Kurt Klestadt Painting

Below is an article featuring one of my clients by Alan Magill, Director of Recreation at Ateret Avot senior home. Kurt contacted me when he was just about to be placed in a nursing home. He still had enough gumption to call out for help, knowing that active life was not over for him. It turned out that Kurt’s home care aide had been helping herself to his social security and pension payments for over a year.  For years, he remained isolated in a senior citizens apartment, without proper nutrition or personal care, being admitted often to the hospital.  Kurt’s only relative, a nephew tried to help. But Kurt was always very independent and as many seniors can get, he was paranoid about losing control.  Finally, the hospital discharged him to a nursing home for placement.

Initially, Kurt was evaluated as having severe memory loss by the nursing home.  Once it was determined that he was not Medicaid eligible, Kurt was accepted by Atria Kew Gardens Life Guidance program, together with 12/12 private aides, which we arranged through Senior Helpers. Kurt spent most of his time in his room, alone with the aides, looking through old books and talking to himself. He did not want to participate in any of the group activities, obsessing about news clippings and trying to dominate the conversation with some point he needed to make.      Although he was well cared for at Atria, it was obvious that he was very unhappy and talked often about feeling sick and dying.

With memories of having to flee from Germany in 1939, running with his family through Europe, Africa and eventually landing in South America, Kurt speaks several languages and has lots of stories. After a few months at Atria, where Kurt’s medical and financial  issues were addressed, Kurt told me about a rabbi, who he knew from South America and who was now in Queens, NY. The rabbi was more than happy to visit with Kurt and after many discussions, we were able to clarify Kurt’s situation.  What Kurt wanted was to be in an environment where people could appreciate his stories, even on the tenth telling.

Alan Magill has a way of featuring each residents strengths during the course of the many activities focusing on Jewish life and history. I have seen people who look like they were asleep in their wheelchairs, start to sing and recite poetry or respond with an eloquent soliloquy upon hearing Alan call out their name.

Here is the article:

GETTING BACK by Alan Magill   January 25, 2019

As appeared in the Jewish Connection Volume 12, Issue 9

There are things we do in our younger years that we enjoy, that are important to us, that we put aside for different reasons when we become adults. As the years go by, some may have a fleeting thought of that image of idyllic youth and yearn at some point to get back to it. Others may have it foremost in their mind and keep waiting for the opportunity for the free time to pursue it. For yet others, there can be nary a thought, but it could be in the subconscious, waiting to emerge.

One example of this is when teenagers of decades ago had the opportunity to learn Torah but then with increasing responsibilities of work and family, put it aside. But for those who still yearn for it, how sweet it is to get back to it.

I knew of a man, years ago, who lived in a Senior Home, who was a Holocaust survivor. He told the recreation director that he had a Yeshiva education but after the War, the desire to learn was taken out of him. Sixty years later something remarkable happened. Now blind, someone gave him a Torah tape to listen to. He took to it like a fish to water. His nishama was being touched in a meaningful way to an endeavor that had so, so long ago been important to him. More and more tapes were sent to him He could be seen on a daily basis sitting in the lobby with his earphone in the recorder with a big smile on his face.

You CAN go Home again. A cousin of mine, a lawyer, while in his 50s, had to clean out the house of an elderly family member who had passed away. He came across a Bible with the names of that man’s grandfather and his father’s name and other family names as well going back more than a century. My cousin, a very busy man with his career at the time, told himself while looking at that Bible, that one day when he had the time, he would dedicate himself to researching past generations to fill in and add depth to his family tree. This was not an endeavor he was going back to from his youth. But something that had tickled his fancy in middle age. And sure enough, he went back to that Bible when he retired and launched an international search for family members that went back to Poland in the late 18th century. And of course, moving forward. I was contacted, and was included in a publication he made along with hundreds and hundreds of cousins he found, a nice amount of which were at a family reunion he organized in Princeton, NJ. A true labor of love.

I was inspired by a woman I worked with in a senior home who in her late teens wanted to go to college, but it just did not fit into her family’s plans for her. No matter. When she was in her late 70s, she had no family planning for her, so she went back to a decades old dream and went to college and got her degree.

Pictured here is Kurt, a guest at Ateret Avot Senior Home, where I am director of recreation. You have to go back a number of decades when he went to the High School of Fine Arts in Montevideo, Uruguay, to see where he was immersed in artistic pursuits. Since then, over the years, he was an engineer and a teacher, and he has not done much painting over that time. And now, with Ateret bringing in an artist to lead a four part painting project of a mountain scene of nature, Kurt gets a chance to rekindle his interest as he is seen here starting the painting and showing his work after the first group.

Yes, there is a positive in developing new interests. But there’s a special kind of joy when you can rediscover a past interest. It’s like going back in time and shaking the hand of your youth.

Alan Magill can be reached at

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February 11, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment