Jewish Journal


October 30, 2003

Myriad Options for Senior Living


Rose and Sam Leff enjoy a cooking class at the Jewish Home for the Aging.

Rose and Sam Leff enjoy a cooking class at the Jewish Home for the Aging.

At the ages of 83 and 84, Rose and Sam Leff began to feel isolated in their two-bedroom Woodland Hills apartment. "We had given up driving, so there really wasn't too much for us to do," Rose said.

The Leffs decided to move to a residential care facility at the Jewish Home for the Aging, which provides kosher meals, housekeeping services, transportation, social and recreational activities and a medical clinic on-site. While they agree it was difficult adjusting to living in one room ("If we have a fight, I'm out in the hall," Sam joked), four years later, they have no regrets about their decision.

When seniors find that living on their own has become difficult or impractical, there are a number of living options to choose from. Senior living facilities offer a continuum of services, but costs and quality can vary widely.

The Leffs chose residential care (also known as assisted living), an option offering independent living in hotel-like facilities that provide housekeeping, meals, activities and transportation. Many facilities offer multiple levels of care, catering to seniors who are independent as well as those who require help with eating, dressing and bathing. Costs can range from $1,800 to 6,000 per month.

Board-and-care homes are a specific type of residential care facility involving a regular house that has been modified and is licensed to care for up to six residents. Personal care, meals, activities and transportation to medical appointments are provided. Fees range from $2,500 to $6,000 per month.

For those who need medical care in addition to personal assistance, skilled nursing homes provide nursing care around-the-clock. The staff includes registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and a medical director, and facilities are licensed by the state Department of Health Services. Residents often cannot walk, and generally need help with their daily living activities. Unlike residential care facilities, nursing homes are covered by Medi-Cal. Costs average from $4,500 to $5,500 per month.

Since the majority of seniors prefer to live at home when possible, there are many services designed to help make that feasible. Often, the challenge is making sense of the options. For seniors or their caregivers, whether they are in a crisis or just looking for some direction, "The first step is to call your local senior center," said Sandra Solomon, director of protective services program and senior outreach services for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS). "You can walk in and ask a question or you can call on the phone and the worker will give you suggestions."

Senior centers provide seniors living at home with opportunities for socializing in the form of recreational activities, meals and classes. Many offer counseling and support groups. JFS runs five senior centers in the L.A. area.

Adult day health care is an option for seniors who might otherwise be isolated at home due to medical conditions. Adult day health care centers provide recreational activities, rehabilitation therapy and social services, all under medical supervision. Transportation and meals are provided, and Medi-Cal will cover this service for low-income seniors. Social day care provides a similar set-up, without the medical component, but is not covered by Medi-Cal.

For those needing help with household tasks, placement agencies such as JFS's A+ Personal Care can provide aides to assist with cooking, housekeeping, shopping and other tasks. Fees can range from $9 to $21 per hour.

For those in good health and with their own transportation, OASIS is a sort of junior college for seniors, offering an array of courses from computers and belly dancing to Shakespeare and current events, as well as trips both local and abroad.

Solomon notes that adult children who live far from their ailing parents or travel frequently may benefit from case management agencies such as JFS's Senior Outreach Services. These agencies provide trained social workers who visit the senior at home, assess the situation and suggest what type of help might be needed. Once recommendations are made, families can either follow-up themselves, or have a caseworker make the arrangements and provide regular follow-up. However, not everyone can afford the $100 hourly fee, which does not include mileage and travel time.

Carol Koransky, senior vice president of policy, planning and community development for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, fears people who could benefit may be unaware that help is available.

"I want people who are dealing with aging parents and their own aging to know that there are resources," she said. "I fear often times that the resource are actually sitting right here, and ... they just don't know that it's available to them."

For more information, contact Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles at (323) 761-8800.

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