J-Sei event addresses aging issues in Japanese American community

ALAMEDA, Calif. — J-Sei, formerly Japanese American Services of the East Bay, held its “Sansei! Are you prepared to live to 100?” event as part of its “J-Sei Saturday Morning Series on Oct. 9 at the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif.

The event — which brought together a panel of specialists in the areas of aging, health, financial planning, estate planning and housing — is part of the senior service organization’s effort to outreach to Sansei and other generations of Japanese Americans as part of its new expanded mission.

“This is the ideal panel [to debut our Morning Series] in that addresses senior issues, but also reaches out to the seniors’ family members,” said J-Sei Board President Bruce Hironaka.

He added that by involving the younger generations, J-Sei is reinforcing its primary mission of caring for seniors, as opposed to diluting it.

“We want to connect to the Nikkei tradition of taking care of our elders,” he continued. “This Saturday Morning Series is one of our more pronounced statements that families are part of the community and part of elder care.”

The day began with a lecture by Nancy Hikoyeda, associate director of the Stanford Geriatric Education Center. According to 2000 Census data, she explained, 159,340 of the approximately 796,000 Nikkei living in the United States are above the age of 65, representing 20 percent of the population. These seniors, she said, are expected to live longer than previous generations.

“Due to advances in medical technology and less stressful lifestyles, there’s a huge population of older adults coming down the pike,” Hikoyeda said. “Those over the age of 85 are the fastest growing group.”

She added that public policy changes also had a significant impact, citing environmental laws, public health efforts like sanitation and immunizations, and workplace regulations created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When asked by the Nichi Bei Weekly after the panel how aging impacts Nikkei differently than other populations, Hikoyeda noted that ageism is not as prominent in Japanese American communities because of long held cultural values. However, the way Nikkei view long-term care is changing, she said.

“Economically, families often need two incomes to survive, meaning that there is no one home [to look after aging family members],” Hikoyeda explained. “There are also different expectations today. Because the Issei often didn’t speak English, there was a stronger commitment from the Nisei to take care of them.”

NIKKEI AND AGING — J-Sei, formerly Japanese American Services of the East Bay, held its “Sansei! Are you prepared to live to 100?” event on Oct. 9 at the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif. Experts in a variety of fields, including (from left to right): Dr. Nancy Hikoyeda, associate director, Stanford Geriatric Education Center; Dr. Helen Chen, chief medical officer, Center for Elders Independence; Christabel Cheung, executive director, San Francisco Village; and Brent Kato, partner, Kato, Feder & Suzuki, LLP, specialist in elder care law, discussed such topics as long term care, healthy aging, financial, legal and estate planning. photos by James Yong

In a study of older Nisei women Hikoyeda conducted a decade ago, the majority said they did not have a preference for a Japanese facility if they moved to such a place.

“Today, there is a waiting list to get into Keiro’s [Japanese American nursing] homes,” she says about the Southern California-based senior service agency. “The numbers alone suggest many of the people who said they didn’t care, do have a preference [for a culturally sensitive care facility] now that it’s time.”

Helen Chen, the chief medical officer at the Center for Elder’s Independence, spoke about ways to live one’s older years in better health.

“The best strategy is not a pill or an injection,” she said. “It’s the three m’s — move, mingle and mind.”

Chen went on to explain that staying physically and mentally active, keeping socially connected and paying attention to one’s emotional health are key to healthy aging.

Panelist Min Yoo, Senior Wealth Strategist at Union Bank, emphasized the importance of financial planning.

“Your health care, living situation and finances all play hand in hand, you can’t isolate one and not think about the other,” Yoo said. “The themes [we panelists are discussing] are all surprisingly similar — what can we do to improve our lifestyle as we age?”

The Union Bank strategist urged all people to think about what they want to do when they retire and how they want to spend their time.

“You have to establish your top priorities and really understand what your goals and objectives are,” he said. “It is key, though, to establish a retirement cash-flow analysis by calculating your sources of income versus your expenses.”

Legal and estate planning panelist Brent Kato, an attorney with Kato, Feder & Suzuki, explained that proper legal precautions, or lack thereof, could have a major impact on one’s finances as they age.

For instance, he warned, many make informal arrangements, such as giving their children joint ownership of their bank account, but find it leaves them vulnerable in unexpected ways.

“Your children might never do anything to hurt you,” Kato said. “However, circumstances beyond their control can affect them. If they get sued, your assets could be subject to their creditors.”

He also explained that contingency planning in the event that one becomes incapacitated is critical.

San Francisco Village Executive Director Christabel Cheung discussed several models for senior housing and addressed the need for community.

Elder co-housing is a movement that began 15 years ago in Denmark, in intergenerational co-housing communities, in which residents share use of facilities such as kitchens. Because they lived together, they collaborated on ways to address aging.

“We live in a very individualist society and lead very age segregated lifestyles,” Cheung explained. “Generally, we only associate with people whose age is within 20 years of ourselves.”

She also discussed Green Houses, a reinvention of traditional, licensed skilled nursing facilities. They are designed to look and feel less like a hospital and more like a home.

“One of the most common thing I hear from older adults in facilities is that it’s unnatural to receive guests in your bed — it makes you feel like you’re infirmed,” Cheung said. “Green houses offer community spaces, like libraries and living rooms, for people to meet, receive guests or just watch TV.”

Another model gaining traction is Naturally Occurring Retirement communities, comprised of neighbors who have lived in their homes for many years and want to remain there for many years. They organize among residents to coordinate home services, leverage group buying power and resources and partner with service providers in the community.

“There is also a benefit to the labor movement perspective,” Cheung added. “If an entire community hires a care provider on different days of week, it gives them a full time job.”

Cheung also talked in detail about the Village Movement, in which she has done the majority of her work.

Her nonprofit organization, as with other “villages,” coordinates support to help older residents put off assisted living for as long as comfortably possible. Once someone becomes a member they get an in-home needs assessment. Services include periodic check-in and/or counseling calls tailored to individual need, home safety reviews and help with transportation.

The village coordinates social and cultural programming, including book and movie clubs, dining out and theater groups, walking groups, member-only cultural events and in home get-togethers. “It’s the not the activity, it’s the fact its something new,” Chueng said, reinforcing Dr. Chen’s point about the three “m’s.” “Mental sweat, being forced into a new environment is key.”

Following the panel, there was an audience question-and-answer period, in which several attendees asked for advice, expressing concern about how to pay for elder care and catastrophic medical events.

The panelists addressed both individual questions and the general sentiment, which for many, appeared to be the concern that they would not be able to pay for the care their parents would require.

“I want to emphasize that these dilemmas are the result of a broken system,” Dr. Hikoyeda said. “If you can’t save enough money, it’s not your fault.

“The system really needs to be fixed and that’s part of what health care reform is about,” she continued. “We’re not here today [endorsing the system], we’re trying to help you navigate it and be savvy.”

Kato also spoke to the need for greater health care reform and Chen emphasized the advantage of a single-payer health care system.

J-Sei was pleased by the discussion, as well as the turnout, which filled the auditorium to capacity.

“We are trying to attract a younger demographic to these events, so we were glad to see so many Sansei, as well as both older and younger attendees,” Hironaka said. “The whole goal is to get people to think about these issues and I think we did that here today.”

J-Sei, formerly JASEB, is a community and cultural organization that brings generations and families together to nurture and pass on Nikkei values and tradition through a broad array of services and programs. Senior programs include a nutrition program, social classes and lectures, a pilot Transportation Program, and bilingual case management and referral services. For more information, contact J-Sei administrative offices at (510) 848-3560 or the Senior Center at (510) 883-1106.

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