The huge challenges we face in caring for our elderly

Until responsibility is taken nationally, we as a community must take on looking after loved ones in later life


Young caregiver helping senior woman walking. Nurse assisting her old woman patient at nursing home. Senior woman with walking stick being helped by nurse at home.

The Jewish social care environment has changed a lot in the last three years. Some of this is to do with Covid and some is because of inflation. But mostly, it is down to a rapidly ageing population increasingly centralised in Greater London.

The world we now inhabit is one where care homes exist to nurse those at the very end of life, or with complex and progressive dementia.

People are entering them more unwell and living in them for much less time. If they could avoid it, they would not be in a care home.

But the numbers living with dementia are rising and as the baby boomer generation ages, a further increase of 16 per cent is forecast by 2040. To add a further layer of complexity, in the Jewish world, both in and outside of London, it has become almost impossible to operate or sustain smaller, individual homes.

The chances are that at some point in our lives, all of us will be touched by the need for social care, whether for our parents, our partners, or dare I say it, for ourselves. None of us have a vision of our sunset years being spent in a care home, just as none of us want to die in hospital.

We all want to live our lives until the end in our own homes. But to do so will invariably require the support of organisations like Jewish Care.

Over 90 per cent of older people who attend our three centres for people living with dementia — and our five community centres — live alone.

Our meals-on-wheels provision for the isolated and housebound currently distributes almost 4,000 meals a month to members of the community — double the 2019 figure. Demand for our befriending services has tripled in the same period. Our virtual community centre, JC Presents, has over the past 12 months had some 9,500 people joining its online activities and events, whether from their homes or hospital beds.

This enabling of people to live in their own homes in the community is one of the two jobs we do at Jewish Care. The other is providing a home for those no longer able to live on their own. It’s a job that starts before admission in working with families to ensure they get exactly what they need.

Last year, a young man called whose only family was his 92-year-old aunt, in hospital following a bad fall. Although medically fit to leave hospital, severe mobility issues meant returning home was not an option.

On their behalf, we pushed the local authority to get her assessed. We stressed that she needed extensive nursing care and, just as important, a warm Jewish environment. It took six weeks of negotiation to get this lady out of hospital and into the care she deserved and she is now happily residing in a Jewish Care home funded by her local authority.

The NHS bed crisis has, in part, been caused by cases where someone’s care needs are no longer medical but social. And yet they get stuck in hospital because while medical care is free, social care is not. It is expensive.

Over 40 per cent of the residents in our homes fund their own care but many vulnerable older members of our community cannot afford to, relying on local authority funding, which takes time to arrange. It also falls far short of the full costs of care. Where we can, we ask family members to make up the shortfall. But that is often not possible and we will never turn people away on financial grounds.
At Jewish Care, we feel it our duty to increase awareness of these costs and what all of us should do to prepare for them.

In truth, social care funding is something that should have been comprehensively addressed by government. Yet consistent promises have been followed by predictable delays. Until responsibility is taken nationally, we as a community must take it on for ourselves.

Jonathan Zenios is chair of Jewish Care

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