Know Your Neighbors
You live across the country from your parents. You’re raising your children and are wondering how you’ll send three kids to college in a few years. You take pills for some chronic conditions and worry that one major medical crisis might wipe out your retirement plans. You live modestly, in a small middle-class home, and you have no desire to move.
On your visit to the desert to visit Mom and Dad, you plan to play a little golf and relax. But you notice that Dad’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be; he doesn’t drive at night anymore—and you’re not so sure he should be driving at all. His legs aren’t as strong as they once were; he used to love to walk but now cramps up after only a block.
Mom is still playing bridge with her friends, but she is having trouble remembering things (in fact, she tells the same story over and over again), and no longer has the energy for housework. You realize the dishes aren’t really clean, and some food long past its expiration date is in the refrigerator. You worry about her management of medicines.
How long, you wonder, will it be before they’re going to need some help or supervision to continue living independently? Who will take them to the doctor? Do they need emergency-alert devices in case they fall? Who will oversee their medicines? Who will make sure they’re eating well? And how are you going to initiate the conversation about care without starting World War III?
Say hello to the current “sandwich generation”—the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) currently in their 50s and 60s, with children still at home or boomeranging back home. They’re preparing for their own retirement, often with aging parents in their 70s and beyond who need help, but don’t want to admit it. According to Baby Boomers R We, a Pew Research Center report indicated that “one in every eight middle-aged Americans … is currently caring for at least one child and a parent under the same roof.” Not surprisingly, 75 percent of those family care providers are women.
This role reversal presents some big challenges: Elders don’t want to admit they need help, especially to their children, and they fear losing control of their own lives. How do you make sure aging parents are getting both the care and the dignity they deserve, and manage your own needs and obligations at the same time—especially if you don’t live nearby?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the top three fastest-growing occupations through 2018 will be personal care aides and home health workers, with occupational and physical therapists not far behind. These professionals—often with extensive training, but sometimes they’re people who are merely willing to do the work—are critical to making sure Mom and Dad get the support they may need, especially since each generation is living longer. So how do you find what you need for your parents here in the desert if you live in Oshkosh, or Baltimore, or Vancouver, or San Jose?
The Riverside County Office on Aging is a good place to start. Authorized under the federal Older Americans Act and the Older Californians Act, this agency provides funding and leadership support to help service providers who work with seniors and adults with disabilities. They provide referrals for those who wish to remain at home, as well as programs for family caregivers. Their HelpLink staff can connect you to services and care specialists at 800-510-2020.
Local small service businesses have begun to fill the need for assistance with personal and health-care oversight. Fairly new on the scene are professional geriatric care managers or consultants, who can plan and coordinate programs to support and improve the quality of life for aging individuals. They often come from nursing, social work or gerontology backgrounds, and are expected to have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality and availability of services in their communities. After a detailed assessment, they generate a plan that may include recommendations about housing, home care, nutritional needs, daily activities and even financial or legal assistance.
Another resource in the Coachella Valley is ACT1 (Aging Community Team), a nonprofit group that brings together 67 local organizations and individuals who provide services to local senior and disabled populations. Among the members who are “Supporting Seniors Through Community Teamwork” are businesses that offer specialized residence facilities, in-home care, medical supplies, health and fitness activities and legal or financial services, as well as organizations that run errands, prepare meals, see to personal hygiene and do light housekeeping. Several ACT1 companies specialize in relocation services: They will pack up, conduct sales, and set up a new household, including hanging the pictures. ACT1 also sponsors scholarship grants and recently awarded assistance to nine local students who plan health-related careers.
Needless to say, support services are not free. Even though professional caregivers are not highly paid, 24/7 oversight gets expensive, and geriatric care managers who can help you sort through all the service providers are not covered by either Medicare or Medicaid (a major flaw in our seniors’ health-care system, as is the lack of coverage for long-term care … but that’s a subject for another column).
So let’s say you look into all the possibilities and realize you really have no choice: Mom is going to have to come live with you, and you’ll figure out which kid will sleep on the couch. Or you’re going to have to move in with Dad and put your career or your relationship on hold for a while. After all, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?
Since the baby boomers—who have set cultural trends ever since they were conceived—are right in the middle of all this, let’s at least find the silver lining.
Baby Boomers R We is happy to tell you that there are some real positives to being in the sandwich generation. “First and foremost may be a renewed sharing of family values. … Our children might learn some family history from their own grandparents, not to mention some valuable life insights. In turn, our parents may no longer feel isolated or abandoned just because of age, in fact feeling more connected with day-to-day life and events. Everyone can celebrate family moments, and cherish them for a lifetime.
“Another positive could be the pooling of resources, whether by desire or economic necessity. The down economy in recent years has likely deflated the value of portfolios and property alike. … The pooling of remaining resources could make them stretch much further. In cases where the numbers are more favorable, it might make sense to add onto our own home or to relocate to new accommodations. Besides meeting an immediate need, dwellings that provide in-laws quarters’ may very well have an enhanced value in the future.
“After all, we may be the first generation to be sandwiched, but we’re certainly not going to be the last!”