It is crucial that the government and society change their perspectives toward the elderly, Doron Raz, head of the Long-Term Care Providers Association of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.
The association, comprised of 17 of the largest care providers in the country, provides long-term care services for some 160,000 elderly in their homes.
Some 866,000 people over the age of 65 live in Israel, comprising 10.6 percent of the population, according to a report the Central Bureau of Statistics released for the International Day of Older Persons earlier this month.
There are some 485,000 women and 380,000 men over the age of 65, with nearly half of this population group, some 46%, over the age of 75.
Since 1995, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over has remained steady at around 10%, though in the past few years there has been a gradual upward trend in this figure, according to the report.
According to forecasts, by the year 2035 some 14.6% of Israelis will be over the age of 65, with the elderly population predicted to roughly double to 1.66 million people.
Nursing care is provided to the elderly under the Long-Term Care Insurance Law that went into effect in 1988, providing help in performing routine tasks so that they may continue to live at home.
Those eligible receive a basket of services, including a personal caregiver to help them with basic tasks such as shopping, cleaning, showering and buying medicines.
They get a minimum of 9.75 hours per week in help, and depending on their mental and physical situation can receive assistance of up to 22 hours per week, Raz said.
“Before 1988 you could arrive at an elderly person’s home and open the fridge and see there was nothing to eat, or after two to three days neighbors smelled a bad smell and found the elderly person’s body. This does not happen today, because we have caregivers who arrive on a daily basis,” he said.
People can exchange two hours of assistance for one day at a day center, which provides transportation, activities and in some cases a hot meal.
According to the law, elderly persons are also entitled to provision of absorbent undergarments, laundry services, and emergency alarm buttons in their homes.
The law aims to assist poor senior citizens. To be eligible, they must meet criteria that include reaching retirement age – 62 for women and 67 for men, and undergo examinations of functioning capacity by medical professionals.
To get the full benefits, they must have a monthly income of less than NIS 13,000 per couple, or around NIS 9,000 per single person.
“Israel can be proud of this law, because 160,000 elderly receive assistance from a caregiver into their homes every day,” he said.
According to Raz, the Long-Term Insurance Law is rare, as only six other countries, including Britain, Sweden and Germany, have similar legislation.
Furthermore, the state benefits enormously from the law, he said.
“There is massive savings for the country because it is much cheaper to provide assistance to elderly in their homes rather than take care of them full-time in institutions,” he explained.
According to Raz, the law provides jobs for some 100,000 caregivers, 80,000 of whom are Israelis, as well as for hundreds of social workers employed by the care-providing organizations.
“We are the organizations who go into the elderly people’s houses on a daily basis, we train the caregivers, oversee them, pay their salaries, and as an organization we work to protect [the elderly’s right to] nursing care,” he said.
The government spends approximately NIS 5.5 billion annually on nursing care for the elderly, Raz told the Post. But he considers this a misleading figure, he added.
“The elderly paid for this service. People have been paying insurance for years just for this – so it is not necessarily true to say that this program is costing the government money,” he explained.
“If a citizen had paid private insurance and not National Insurance he would have gotten a lot more, but we are a welfare state and so what we pay is not necessarily what we will get in return,” he added.
Regarding the expected increase in the elderly population, Raz said the government and society need to change their perspectives and policies.
“A 67-year-old man of today is not a 67-year-old man of the past; today a 70-year-old man can go to the gym and looks great and feels great,” he said.
He called on the government to change its policies regarding employment of seniors.
“The state should allow a person who has passed retirement age to work even in a part-time job, but if an elderly person gets a job and continues to contribute to society the state lowers his pension allowance,” Raz explained.
Therefore, he asserted, the government has created a situation whereby it punishes those elderly who are capable and willing to contribute to society, thereby discouraging them from doing so.
Another problem, Raz said, is that youth are not interested in caring for the elderly.
“A majority of our workers are middle-aged or older; youth simply do not want to work in this profession and this is something we are working now to try to change through offering incentives to youth once they are released from IDF service,” he said.
“The population is growing older and this is something we will need to prepare for,” he said.