health expo

Facing loved one’s illness: Get help (and Medicaid)


See also — Rabbi Glatt at Achiezer: Before illness, get a posek and Achiezer Jewish Healthcare Conference & Expo at TWA

Several speakers at Sunday’s Achiezer Jewish Healthcare Conference & Expo agreed on this point: When dealing with a loved one’s serious illness, don’t face it alone. Get help.

And act to get Medicaid coverage, because otherwise the costs can be unsustainable.

Elder law attorney Ronald Spirn said at a session on “Medicaid, Asset Protection and Estate Planning” that almost anyone can qualify for Medicaid, “even with a million dollar house and $200,000 in savings,” and that even long-term care insurance won’t always cover essential costs.

When clients express skepiticsm about Medicaid rules —they tell him that they heard such-and-such online at the supermarket, or from a friend at shul — he tells them, “This is what the law provides. If you don’t want to do it, gezunt-a-hait. Spend your yerusha, spend your money and then, guess what, when all your money’s gone you’ll have to go on Medicaid anyway.”

At a panel discussion on dementia and Alzheimer’s, Hennie Friedman, RN, spoke of her ailing husband and emphasized, “You’re going to need to get Medicaid.” Organizations and elder law attorneys are helpful resources in maneuvering through bureaucratic obstacles, she said.

At a session on “End of Life: Halachic and practical considerations,” Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills said “Medicaid is really crucial because the costs of home care — really all medical care — can certainly add up.” 

Friedman described how no one took her early concerns about her husband’s condition seriously.

“Nobody saw what I saw,” she said. “Only a spouse can pick up little small things because we understand what’s normal.” She wrote a book, “The Unexpected Journey,” about her ongoing experience.

“Trust yourself,” Friedman continued. “If you feel that something is wrong, even if nobody else sees it, it’s OK. Keep going on doing what your heart tells you to do to get the right diagnosis.”

In looking for a doctor, remember that “everyone’s a specicialist” these days, and “if you’re worried about someone’s memory, and the possibility of dimentia, it’s important to find a doctor who specializes in memory disorders,” she said.

“Take care of yourself [and] learn to ask for help. Dealing with dimentia is not something one person can do by themselves. It takes an entire team.”

Accompanying her on the panel was Luca Giliberto, MD, PhD, who practices neurology at Northwell Health and conducts clinical trials at the Feinstein Institute’s Litwin-Zucker Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders.

“Elderly people are more and more aware of memory problems and they want to be tested, but they’re not,” he said. “We fail in that.”

He reminded his audience that “medications don’t cure the disease,” and that most trials have — thus far — been unsuccessful. It is helpful to do cardio-vascular exercise  “and exercise your brain,” he said.

Speaking on “My Parents, My Children, Myself: A Delicate Balacing Act,” David Pelcovitz, PhD, said that “this generation has the mitzvah of kibud av v’em longer than any generation in history — and both the cost of it, and the benefits of it.”

An unexpected positive when dealing with an ailing elderly parent is that “you get to spend time with them in a way you didn’t when you were much younger.”

But the challenge is not one best undertaken alone, and it’s important to ask for help — which has the ancillary benefit of helping the person you’re asking to help you.

“Study after study shows that when you ask someone to help you, and they help you, you are literally prolonging their lives,” Pelcovitz said. “And you’re leading to higher levels of happiness in that person.”

He said it would be ideal to have a partner or friend you’d be comfortable calling at 3 in the morning, to know that there’s always someone you can turn to when you are in your distress.

He spoke of standing at the bottom of a hill.

“If you’re alone you see the hill as very steep; if you have somebody at your side the hill looks less steep,” he said.