Homes Not Ready for Aging


By Lisa Autz

Photo courtesy of Sima Dimitric.

When my grandmother turned 75, my father and his siblings took turns caring for her in their homes. Every weekend she was picked up by a different one of her four sons to spend quality time with her grandchildren and be cared for by the family.

She resisted the idea of living in a sterile, assisted living home where her needs would be met by strangers. However, as she continued to age, she had trouble performing everyday activities. My family meanwhile struggled to find more time to devote to her care.

An assisted living home on the fringes of Long Island, New York, became the best viable option for both the family’s busy schedules and grandma’s declining abilities.

Today, it’s a common struggle for families to find a facility to aid their aging elders. However, this uncomfortable challenge will likely get worse in the coming years. Most assisted living homes will become filled to capacity with Baby Boomers reaching their riper years.

In a report, entitled Housing America’s Older Adults—Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population, an estimate was made that by 2030, there will be 132 million adults age 50 and above. The statistic is a 70 percent jump since the year 2000.

The main issue in this surge of seniors is that the volume will exceed the amount of tax paying, working-age individuals. There won’t be enough funding for government programs that help support and aid the long-term care of the aging. As a result, programs like social security, Medicare, and other resources won’t be able to meet the demands of a greater older populace.

Organizations like the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) have been grabbling with the expected disparity for years. ALFA works to create public policy incentives that encourage people to save more money for themselves when they age. ALFA has 31,000 communities nationally where members provide all types of services from independent livings, assisted living, and memory care to hospice programs and rehab services.

Maribeth Bersani, ALFA’s senior vice president of public policy, spoke with BTR about the importance of knowing and asking those tough financial questions to secure a better quality life in advanced years.

“No one wants to think about getting old and needing care, services, and moving out of their own home,” admits Bersani. “We are in the business of having to sell people something they don’t want to buy.”

It’s a classic case of denial.

About half of Americans above 40 understand that almost everyone requires some type of aid as they age–yet just a quarter of these adults realize old age will dawn on them. In reality, 70 percent of Americans older than age 65 will require a type of assisted care.

That discrepancy (in what people know yet refuse to believe for themselves) exemplifies why so many Americans fail to save for the assistance they’ll desperately need.

According to AARP, 75 percent of boomers 55-64 have less than $30,000 saved for retirement. On top of that, fewer jobs are offering pension plans or 401(k) options for workers to build the pool of money for later.

“It’s a fact of life that people not prepared will have far fewer choices and saving can make the difference between a good quality life that you chose and planned versus [only having] one option,” advises Bersani.

Bersani insists that society has plenty of time until the Baby Boomers start entering care facilities. The real concern is if older people will afford them. She explains that the 74 million Baby Boomers in America today won’t be ready to move into assisted living until they reach 85.

“So we have a number of years to start building and developing [assisted living facilities],” reasons Bersani. “I don’t think it’s a shortage; I think it’s an opportunity to come up with innovative ways for people to live and age in different type of settings.”

Alternative models exist, such as the Village Movement, or a system where a group of senior citizens set up a non-profit organization together. Instead of leaving their homes, dwellers have a network where they can provide access to health and other care services to each other.

The Village Movement shows a creative way that many are finding to save money and still deal with the crisis of needing support their families are unable to provide. Today, there are 140 villages of this kind across the country.

Bersani considers caring for Baby Boomers as they age to be a crisis that could be amended through policy changes as well as the grassroots efforts. ALFA supported a recent bill called “CLASS Act,” which is an insurance program that protects individuals that have become disabled and not just seniors over the age of 65. The voluntary program pays $50 per day, $18,250 a year, for participants to get the options of in-home care, adult day care, or assisted living. Premiums vary; monthly rates are estimated at about $123, but paying for the program could be as little as $5 per month for students and people below poverty level.

“The program had a lot of value because it allowed people to become responsible at a really young age,” reasons Bersani. “However, it got caught up in Congress to not be financially sound.”

Until government officials decide to take the crisis of elderly care more seriously in the coming up with program plans to sustain the surging population growth of this aging demographic, the likelihood of quality living arrangements will be slim to none.

Perhaps these problems may seem like a far reaching thought in the midst of a society in denial of death and aging. Nevertheless, Bersani considers it a significant life-long learning habit for young people to start saving for these later years.

Baby Boomers, she urges, should consider starting to ask the tough financial questions today to secure their futures tomorrow.