Getting Care for Elderly Requires Planning Now

There’s nothing quite like confronting your mortality with some stark truths about aging, and that was Eldercare Consulting Group founder Justin Levi’s plan when he spoke Feb. 6 at The Community Shul.

“The odds are very high your parents, your grandparents or yourself are going to need some sort of outside care as you age,” Levi said to about 40 people who came to learn about the key issues involved in caring for aging parents.

Levi, who has been in the eldercare industry for 11 years and is also the president of The Community Shul, said he wanted to hammer home the importance of the myriad issues surrounding eldercare and how it affects everyone. He said there is a built-in assumption as we get older that our longevity expands “and we can put off the time we experience age-related conditions — but it doesn’t happen that way.”

He noted that when Social Security was enacted in the 1930s, the average life expectancy was less than the current retirement age. “Today we are living longer but living sicker, and that’s the most blunt way I can put it,” he said. He noted that once-terminal diseases are now chronic diseases, which creates a greater burden on families and society.

Although Judaism emphasizes caring for aging parents, moving them into your home is not always possible nowadays, Levi said. His mention of that issue then provided the perfect segue into what he called the elephant in the room: dementia.

“It’s something many people don’t understand and can’t handle,” Levi said. “It’s difficult even for the professionals. The old notion of ‘Mom can come live with us when she gets older’ simply doesn’t work anymore.”

In the case of a parent with dementia, Levi said, “you are not going to be able to take care of them alone. You’ll need outside help to prompt your loved one to eat, to bathe, to supervise them.” Finding the right care is crucial, he said.

Justin Levi speaks at The Community Shul on issues related to caring for aging parents. Photo by Kelly Hartog

“I have met so many people who did not prepare financially, emotionally or practically for their parents or grandparents or themselves getting older.” — Justin Levi

Levi then spoke of the different types of outside care facilities or services available:

Independent living — A nonlicensed senior community facility

Assisted living — A residential care facility licensed by the state

Skilled nursing — Commonly known as a nursing home, it is licensed for short-term rehabilitation

In-home care — A professional caregiver, home health care service or a hospice-licensed nursing agency that sends nurses and other professionals to the home to perform certain services (e.g., physical therapy). Hospice care is for people in the end-stage of a disease or condition when treatment is stopped. Medicare funds hospice care.

Learning the best option for your loved one is only part of the hurdle, Levi said, citing a conservative estimate that, by 2030, California will need at least 1 million beds for assisted living. “Right now in California we have 186,000 beds, which is less than 20 percent of what’s currently needed,” Levi said.

In addition, in-home care has become “basically a service for wealthy individuals,” Levi said. “If you need round-the-clock care, you could be paying around $13,000 or $14,000 per month. On top of that, there is also a current caregiver shortage.”

Coming back to his opening remarks, Levi said the secret is in planning ahead. If there was one thing he wanted the attendees to do right now, he said, it was to immediately take out long-term-care insurance because 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will need it.

“Many people have homeowners insurance,” he said. “You spend all that money on a thing — granted, it’s the biggest thing you own — but you could be putting that money away for a person instead. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have home insurance, but you should start planning ahead financially and start saving now.”

And while Levi made it clear he was not a rabbi and therefore could not speak to specific halachic issues, he said it was important to check into unique Jewish issues.

“For instance, there are very few facilities that are kosher,” he said. “If you can’t get into a kosher facility, you’ll need to order food from a kosher caterer. And that gets very expensive.”

Hospice issues regarding rules about the treatment of and removal of treatment from a dying person also need to be discussed with a rabbi, he counseled.

“I have met so many people who did not prepare financially, emotionally or practically for their parents or grandparents or themselves getting older,” Levi said. “So know what’s out there. Get educated. This is heavy stuff. It’s not pleasant and requires a lot of research. However, if you do things the right way, you can avoid problems by planning ahead.”