Person of the Week: Caregivers Allow for Dignified Living Situations for Aging Parents

Technology and villages are allowing seniors to continue staying at home.

February 2, 2011, 11:31 PM

Feb. 4, 2011, 2010 — -- Sue and Skip Hollcroft are two of the more than 20 million people struggling to take care of their children and their aging parents.

They said the balancing act was tough. "Often we have to split our time. You've got the guilt. You know you get one chance, one shot at these high school things with your child," Sue Hollcroft said. "You're constantly running from your job to try to take care of Dad, to try to make it to a wrestling match. Things like that. So it is difficult."

In January when her widowed father, John C, almost 86 years old, wrecked his car, it got even more difficult. Because of her father's declining health, the family decided that it was unsafe for him to live in the house he loved and had lived in for more than 30 years.

Though Sue Hollcroft said it was terrifying to have her dad living alone in the house, he refused to move. He said he felt comfortable there.

"One time they took me to some place on the other side of Manassas and the place is full of old people," John C said. "They weren't as old as me but they were old. I says, 'What the h--- we doing here? I ain't coming here. I'm going home.'"

For months, the family searched for a solution as Sue and Skip's stress increased.

"That's where we said, 'We've got to find something. How can we? What can we do?'" Skip Hollcroft said.

Finally they found a compromise, and today John C is home but he's not alone. A caregiver provided by a service called Home Instead visits John C for four hours a day, five days a week. The caregiver helps him with household chores, accompanies him to his favorite restaurant and provides him with comfortable companionship at a price of a little more than $20,000 a year.

"It's kept him in his home and that's what he wants," Sue Hollcroft said.

Nine out of 10 people older than 60 want to stay in their homes as long as possible. They are able to do that thanks to new technologies -- like sensors alerting family members of a problem -- and the help of neighbors and caretakers, according to the AARP.

Amy Goyer of the AARP said that now there is a trend for the elderly to age at home. "That is the goal of most adults as we live longer, most people want to stay in their own homes," she said.

"That means that families have to be involved in support, neighborhoods, communities, but there is also the industry of technology that supports and aids people to stay in the home," Goyer said.

She pointed to such innovations as vibrating pill boxes that sound an alarm when it's time for a person to take their medication and a Web site created for older adults so they can stay connected with family members in one place.

Goyer said franchised organizations and local nonprofit agencies also provide personal care to aging adults living at home.

"The services are based on a sliding scale, basically what the person can afford," she said. "Some of these services will be covered by insurance. But that is why the volunteer services are more and more popular because these things really do add up."

Home Instead is one of the many services designed to allow the elderly to stay out of nursing homes at an average price of almost $80,000 a year or an assisted-living care facility at more than $37,000 a year.

The Village Catching on Across the U.S.

Another idea catching on around the country is the village, a grassroots organization that is run by the aging for the aging.

Susan McWhinney-Morse, 76, helped start Beacon Hill Village, an organization in her Boston community where those in the neighborhood age 50 or older pay $110 to $640 a year to join a village. The membership price depends on the person's income and gets a member help with everything from shopping for groceries to participation in an exercise class.

"I often think that what gets older people down about living in their own homes are the little things," McWhinney-Morse said. "Like who's going to shovel your snow? Who's going to change the light bulb on top of my stairwell? Who's going to fix the leaky faucet?"

Today, the village movement is exploding with at least 48 other groups started across the nation and more than 600 in development.

McWhinney-Morse said the village has made for a much better relationship between her and her daughter. "I'd rather call them and ask them to come to dinner ... take them out to a movie than [ask] do you think you could just stop by and fix my faucet?"

Her daughter Madeline McNeely-Esposito said she was grateful for the village. McNeely-Esposito, who has a toddler son, said managing her work life with children and aging parents was complicated.

"I know that I have support and a resource in Beacon Hill Village if there is something I can't do or my brother can't do," she said.

Goyer said that it was important for people to look at all of the resources available to them and choose the best services for their relative.

She made additional suggestions:

Goyer said data showed that if people had choices in how they aged, then they aged more successfully. "Having the socialization, the interaction with other people [and] feeling an essence of purpose can really make a huge difference," she said.

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