Inside The Senior Alliance: Jewish Family Services offers with Lynn Breur, Senior Director of Community Outreach and Wellness (Ep 1.23)

In this episode, Emma Olson, Planning and Advocacy Specialist at the Senior Alliance, talks to Lynn Breur, Senior Director of Community Outreach and Wellness at Jewish Family Services. They talk about the various programs for health and wellness that Jewish Family Services offer and how JFS is working to help members get through the social isolation issues of the pandemic. Lynn also explains the JFS Mind University and the important benefits that the program provides, and the Health Coaching JFS provides for those with chronic health conditions.

Produced by Blazing Kiss Media.


Emma Olson (00:00):

Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Emma Olson, Planning and Advocacy Specialist at The Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging serving western and southern Wayne County. Joining me today is Lynn Breur, Senior Director of Community Outreach and Wellness at Jewish Family Service. Lynn, welcome to the podcast.

Lynne Breur (00:21):

Thank you, Emma. I’m happy to be here.

Emma Olson (00:23):

Our mission at The Senior Alliance is assisting people to thrive as they live, age, and grow. Our vision is to lead our community toward a healthy future where they can engage, connect, and contribute. We live out our mission and vision through our various programs and services, such as our nutritional services, MMAP, MI Choice, I&A, and other programs. The vision of Jewish Family Service, or JFS, is a community in which no person faces life’s challenges alone. How do you live out your vision in regards to older adults in our community?

Lynn Breur (00:51):

That’s a great question, Emma. We are so aware that those of us who will be lucky enough to live a long life will encounter certain expected challenges, and there are common issues where we can provide support. So, at our agency, we do that in several ways. We have a variety of geriatric care management teams that are well versed in common issues associated with aging and can help with assessments and putting needed supports and services in place. Because our goal is to help older adults age with the highest quality of life possible for them and the most independence that is possible as well ’cause I think that’s what we’ll all want. To that end, in addition to care management services, we have transportation services that are door-through-door, so if someone needs a little bit of help coming down the steps to their home or needed to be walked into a medical appointment, our drivers are able to do that. We provide, of course, the Meals on Wheels program in conjunction with NCJW, and we also have caregiver support. So, there are a variety of ways we help our clients as they age.

Emma Olson (01:55):

Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in social isolation among older adults. At TSA, we are attempting to combat this with programs like Hearken and Friendly Reassurance. What is Jewish Family Service doing in regards to social isolation?

Lynn Breur (02:10):

As much as we can. You know, social isolation impacts everyone negatively. It impacts us physically, we don’t sleep as well; it impacts us emotionally, we’re more prone to sadness and loneliness and sometimes depression and anxiety; and then it even impacts us cognitively because our brains are wired for social connection. Specifically, at Jewish Family Service, when social isolation became the forefront during the pandemic, even though I think it was always a concern for older adults, we transitioned several of our programs to virtual delivery and they’re still available, so if seniors are homebound, they can join a socialization group with other older adults who are just looking for comradery that meets weekly. We also have converted several of our cognitive training class programs and health coaching programs to be delivered virtually, so without leaving their home people who perhaps have transportation as a barrier or physical mobility as a barrier, all of these services can be accessed. In addition, we do have a Friendly Visitor Volunteer Services Program, as well as volunteers who will make friendly phone calls where an in-person visit might not be most appropriate.

Emma Olson (03:19):

Your website states that you offer a program called Mind University. Can you explain what that is and how older adults can benefit?

Lynn Breur (03:27):

Absolutely. So, all of us who live a long life will experience some form of cognitive decline. I think that we tend to, as a society, attribute any cognitive decline to a dementia, but that’s just not the case. If we think of everybody 65 and older in a big circle, like a pie chart, a very skinny slice of that pie are people who will develop dementia because they have the genes for that. But, the whole rest of the pie, all of us will after a certain age begin to notice changes in our memory, that we need to write things down more, we forget more easily, changes to our ability to focus our attention. And we notice this if we are starting to turn the page in a book we’re reading and we realize, uh, oh, I have no idea what I just read. That might look like a change in memory but often it’s a decline in our ability to tune out distraction. So, somewhere between the top of the page, when I was focused, and the bottom of the page, I got distracted. In addition, the older we get, sometimes we start to have language issues, really slight ones like hearing a word pop out of your mouth that was not the word you intended to say. And just like everything else that slows down about us when we get older, our brain’s processing speeds slow down. So, all this results in changes that we feel, and in order to live our older phase of life independently, we need to have our cognition as strong as possible ’cause it’s very much connected to being able to age well. So, Mind University is our commitment to bring as much research and interventions and information to the local Metro Detroit area to help people take what’s in their own control in terms of lifestyle factors that influence brain health or cognitive training classes, or hearing presentations on what’s normal to expect cognitively as we age and what’s more concerning, and perhaps an indicator of dementia that I should reach out to the doctor about, to the local community.

Lynn Breur (05:25):

In order to do that, we have three different components to Mind University. The first is a monthly workshop series that’s open to everyone in absolutely free of charge. We call it Gray Matters, and it happens on the third Wednesday of the month at 1:00 PM. We bring in outside speakers, and right now it’s all still virtual, who have expertise in the topic related to brain health. So, it might be hearing and the brain, or the heart-brain connection, or art and the brain. So, anybody who’s interested are welcome to come to those presentations because the lifestyle factors, how we use what we have cognitively rather than just let it go unchallenged, has a tremendous impact on our cognition. The second part of Mind University are educational presentations that our team does. We’ll go wherever there’s an organization or a group that wants information on brain health and do those presentations as well.

Lynn Breur (06:22):

But really, the heart of Mind University are evidence-informed cognitive training classes. We call them Mind Aerobics, and we’re really lucky to have licensed down from the New England Cognitive Center to bring them to the Metro Detroit area. Cognitive training is very different from doing crossroad puzzles or anything else that is still beneficial for our brain because cognitive training has much more power to slow that normal decline than I talked about that happens when we’re older or to even level it off completely. In some cases, people who engage in cognitive training actually show some slight improvements, so it’s changing that expected rate of decline. The reason the program is considered evidence-informed is because there’s over a decade of research looking at people’s cognitive screening scores, precognitive training, and post-cognitive training. And the literature, including a landmark study from the National Institute of Health about eight or nine years ago, has shown that cognitive training really can be effective in preventing cognitive decline, but that it requires it to be done in a certain way. And that certain way means an hour at a sitting twice a week for at least 12 weeks. So, the Mind Aerobics program follows those best practices ’cause that had already been well established in the literature. And so, we offer five levels of classes so that regardless of people’s state of cognition, it’s not too late to get it in the best shape it can be. So, virtually the highest level class, something proactive and preventive that anyone can do, are available online. Also, the class for people who are just starting to have some forgetfulness that really would no longer be considered normal is also available virtually. Classes for people who really already have a moderate dementia or an advanced dementia are still available. We can still help. That just needs to be done in person. So, that’s our Mind Aerobics program.

Emma Olson (08:21):

Thanks for telling me about that, Lynn. I feel like that’s a program that a lot of people will be able to benefit from, not just those with dementia.

Lynn Breur (08:30):


Emma Olson (08:31):

JFS offers health coaching for those with chronic conditions. Can you tell me a little more about what health coaching is and what types of chronic conditions participants have in that program?

Lynn Breur (08:42):

So, all coaching really exists in two different forms. There’s group health coaching and there’s individual health coaching. So, we offer both types at Jewish Family Service. The premise is that most people who have a health condition, which of course is almost everybody once you get past a certain age, whether it’s something like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or something more physically painful like arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and so on, often have a health goal that their doctor would like them to achieve. It might be that they need to lose weight, or they need to increase their exercise, or check their blood sugar more often, or stop smoking. And there’s any number of examples; those are just a few. Some people when they hear that goal from their doctor are able to simply work on it on their own and achieve it, but for so many people, it’s just not that easy to make difficult health related changes. If it were that easy to simply lose weight, there wouldn’t be anybody overweight <laugh> but we know that’s not the case. So, health coaching is designed to help people use the time between those visits to the doctor to actually improve their health. So, any chronic health condition is fine.

Lynn Breur (10:01):

So, I gave you some physical examples; there also sometimes are some emotional conditions that go along with that, like depression or anxiety. We offer the group health coaching model that is evidence-based that was created by Stanford University. It’s called Personal Actions Toward Health, and that is a curriculum-based program that teaches people how to manage symptoms. Because if you think about it, Emma, let’s say someone has a physical health condition like asthma. It can cause them to be short of breath. Well, shortness of breath can cause someone to be anxious. So, now there’s shortness of breath and anxiety, and that can cause someone to have insomnia. So, now we have shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety – well, that gives us fatigue. So, one symptom often leads to the next and to the next and to the next. the focus of our group health coaching classes, the Path classes, are to give people enough tools to interrupt that cycle of symptoms at the very first one. So, if the symptom is shortness of breath, what tools do I have in my toolbox to manage shortness of breath? So I can address it before I become anxious and have difficulty sleeping and exhausted. So, some of those tools include using our mind to calm my body using our mind to reduce our perceptions of pain, because all pain is very physical and very real, our perception of pain can be influenced cognitively. Also, cover things like, how do I advocate for myself with my healthcare provider? How do I communicate with friends and family about certain limitations that I have because of my health condition? How do I make sound decisions when it comes to trying a new medication or a new treatment? And what’s a good model to use for problem-solving? There are many more things covered in the class, but hopefully, that gives you an example of some of the tools.

Lynn Breur (11:50):

Individual health coaching is very different. Individual health coaching is not curriculum driven. It’s all about what is getting in the way of an individual. So, it’s one-on-one, someone with a certified health coach. What gets in the way of that person taking the steps they need to take to improve their health? So, if someone comes saying, “Here’s my health goal. I’ve been trying for three months, I’m getting nowhere,” our coaches are trained to use motivational interviewing techniques to help people increase their motivation to make this change. When change is hard if we’re not motivated, we don’t do it. But, there are some very specific techniques to help people increase their motivation, so they are more interested and more engaged in actively making change. Also, our health coaches can take a big health goal that feels overwhelming and break it down to smaller, more manageable steps. They also can provide disease-specific education and knowledge; they can work independently or in conjunction with someone’s physician; and they also can provide accountability and support. Sometimes people need a check-in in order to stay on track. I don’t wanna eat that if I know I’m seeing Marsha on Monday, right? So, that’s an example of what health coaching can look like.

Emma Olson (13:05):

I think that after listening to you talk about health coaching, it just goes full circle back to what we were talking about, about how JFS and TSA both assist people as they live, age, and grow, and also assist them through life’s challenges. So, it’s really cool to get to know more about that. What is the best way for people to get in contact with your office and to utilize these services?

Lynn Breur (13:31):

So, if people are specifically interested in either the health coaching program or the Mind University program, it’s best to call 248-788-MIND or to email MindU@JFS If someone wants information on any of the other Jewish Family Service programs I mentioned, the best number to call would be our general resource center number, which is 248-592-2313.

Lynn Breur (14:09):

And Emma, I want to thank you so much for having me here because TSA and JFS are both responding to changes over recent years. Between the pandemic and the increase in social isolation, there’s been an ironic situation of people thinking more about their health than ever before because we were all fearful, especially in early days of the pandemic, yet at the same time, taking less good care of our health because it was hard to make good food choices. If food was a comfort and so on. And at the same time, the social isolation and the increase in anxiety made us experience a little more cognitive confusion, so it’s a wonderful time to try and take control in those areas now. So, thank you for having me.

Emma Olson (14:51):

Yes. Thank you for joining us, Lynn.

Lynn Breur (14:53):

My pleasure.

Emma Olson (14:54):

If you have any questions about services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at 1-800-815-1112 or email us at Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C. that is at a-a-one-c. I’m Emma Olson. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.

Speaker 3 (15:35):

Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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