Finding a Good Home
Boomerang Parents. Forget kids who head straight from college to their old bedrooms. Out of 36 million people age 65 or older, about 13 percent live with their adult children or other family members. But the older generation requires a lot more hand-holding. When Greco moved in with her daughter, she was generally in good health, except for severe arthritis and high blood pressure. Over the years, however, Erdmann has found herself doing more and more for her mother. She manages her mother's three medications, watching to make sure she takes each one. Always fearful of falls, she's never far away when her mother bathes. She drives Greco to doctor's appointments, fills out all her medical forms, and spends hours on the phone every month sorting out billing or insurance problems. Meanwhile, she says, her mother has started to suffer from short-term memory loss, and Erdmann has become less comfortable leaving her alone during the day.
Such gradual increases in care are one reason why many adult children don't think of themselves as caregivers. "They say, 'I'm just doing what any good daughter would do,'" says Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, a nonprofit coalition of caregiving organizations. As a result, she says, adult children don't think to look for help. That omission can have serious consequences for both the caregiver and the aging parents, since stress can harm caregiver health and lead to a lower quality of care.
One thing that can help ease the strain is proper training. The American Red Cross, hospitals, and nonprofit aging organizations offer courses for family caregivers that cover safety, nutrition, and legal and financial issues. Professional help can also be a godsend. Roughly 1.4 million people receive home-health services, sometimes paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, HMOs, or other insurance. Senior-living companies are also starting to offer home-based services. In Ohio, Kendal Corp., a Pennsylvania firm that owns 14 senior communities, has launched Kendal at Home, which, for an initial membership fee starting at $7,600, plus a monthly fee of $294, offers a lifetime guarantee to provide long-term care services.
States and federal lawmakers are recognizing the home trend. Vermont, for example, is already paying some family members $10 an hour to provide home care to Medicaid recipients who might otherwise be in nursing homes. Other states are following suit, and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has designated $1.75 billion in grants to encourage them. Most of these programs, however, are in the early stages and apply only to very low-income seniors.
Perhaps more immediately helpful for relieving the strain is respite care, someone to take over while caregivers take a deserved break. Some people arrange for a relative or paid caregiver to come. Others find assisted-living facilities that will take a family member for a short stay. In some communities, local Area Agencies on Aging pay for respite care.
Senior Cohousing. In 2002, a group of longtime friends in Davis, Calif., all in their 70s and 80s, sat down to talk about the future. Many had worked together at the University of California-Davis. Now, they faced a new challenge: "We wanted to spend our last years together and help each other as we aged,"says John Jungerman, 84, a retired physics professor from UC-Davis.