Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Four Myths About Low-income Senior Housing

"It's as big as our other apartment and it's only $600 a month." Those were my father's words when he and Mother moved into a seniors-only HUD apartment complex.

As a minister, Daddy's retirement was minimal. So this one-bedroom apartment was a real blessing. Besides shelter, the apartment offered opportunities for fellowship with people their own age. The community was located close to the senior center, shopping and parks.

If your parents are struggling financially, affordable senior housing or retirement communities might just fit the bill. But first, here's a look at the myths.

Myth 1: Programs are uniform. Nationwide, various governmental agencies oversee low-income housing for the elderly. The most well-known are HUD-subsidized senior apartments, which give preferential treatment to those with very low incomes (30% of the average family income in the surrounding area.) In other affordable housing programs, for-profit and not-for-profit companies receive tax breaks if they rent a certain percentage of their building to seniors with low to moderate-incomes. Still other programs offer vouchers which seniors use in selected communities.

Myth 2: Affordable senior housing is only for people with practically no resources. Income limits are usually based on the average family income in the area. For certain programs in the Seattle area, single seniors can make $36,000 (60% of the median family income). A couple can make as much as $41,100.

Myth 3: Senior affordable housing consists of apartments with few amenities. Not always. Some have common areas such as lobbies, meeting rooms and game rooms. In addition, there are a few full-service retirement communities serving low to moderate income seniors and offering meals, housekeeping, activities, transportation and assisted living. Evergreen Court Retirement and Assisted Living in Bellevue, Washington, has such a program.

Myth 4: Affordable senior housing always has a years-long waiting list. Not always. My parents were able to move into their apartment near Milwaukee without waiting at all. Today in the Greater Seattle area, some affordable senior apartments have immediate openings. The longest waiting time is for housing serving seniors with very low incomes.

To locate affordable senior housing, contact your local senior center.

Do you have experience with low-income housing for your parents or loved ones?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Quiz: Is Your Parent Ready for a Retirement Community?

Check to see if your parent might be a good candicate for a retirement or assisted living community.

Does your parent say things like?

"I hate eating TV dinners or in restaurants all the time."

"Shopping, meal preparation and cleanup take too much time and energy."

"I'd like someone else to do the yardwork and housework."

"Asking people to take me places isn't fun."

"I have too much time on my hands."

"I'd like to resume some of the activities I used to enjoy."

"I'm lonely and want to be around people my own age."

"I'd like to simplify my life."


How many of these describe your aging parents? A retirement community isn't the answer for everyone, but a good one will eliminate tedious tasks like grocery shopping, meal preparation and cleanup, plus inside and outside maintenance and housekeeping. An excellent retirement community will provide opportunities for exploring new activities, meeting new friends, and rekindling interests from long ago.

If your parents are very frail and have great physical, emotional or cognitive needs, assisted living may be your answer. It offers all the elements of retirement living, plus personal care and staff that become like a second family. Ask yourself:

"Does my aging parent skip medications?"

"Does my parent need help with bathing or dressing or transferring (i.e. getting out of bed to a sitting or standing position or the reverse)?"

"Does my parent have an incontinence issue that's out of control?"

"Is my parent emotionally needy?"

"Does my parent have great medical needs?"


In-home services are another eldercare option for people desiring to stay in their own home. I'll discuss these in an upcoming blog.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Search and Find a Great Home for Your Parents

In the best of all worlds, people plan for the future. Perhaps in their 60s or 70s, still in good health, they wake up and see their house with new eyes. They ask, "Is this really the perfect home for our retirement?" And they begin to dream...

This is the REAL world, however. Chances are, if you and other Boomers are reading this, your parents are older and more frail. They probably haven't planned for greater health needs. Now it's up to you. Here are some tips, cultivated from seniors and their families who have grappled with finding the best eldercare.

1. Make a wish list.When possible, involve your parents. Write down their desires, and yours, for their next home, or for fixing up their current home. Examine everything: location, size, meals, housekeeping, transportation? What about proximity to medical facilities and doctors and availability of extra health care?

Think through the things your parents enjoy now or in the past, which they might resume if given a chance. Pets? Gardening? Attending church? Playing musical instruments? Are your parents lonely, isolated?

If your parents choose to stay at home, what services will need to be brought in? And is that a workable solution?

Look through your list, and mark any "must haves," realizing that in doing your research, things will change. For example, Val and Luise, devout Catholics from the Seattle area, were sure they wanted a Catholic-sponsored continuing care retirement community. The good news was they found one. The bad news was it was in Memphis, Tennessee. They settled on a Protestant-sponsored community which proved to be a good fit.

2. Look around.With your list in hand, start your search. Ask friends, your parents' physicians and anyone who works in the senior care field. Check out websites to see if the communities meet your qualifications. Narrow your choices to three or four, and visit.

If possible, take your parents along to your top one or two choices. Nearly all retirement and assisted living communities offer tours with lunch. Some allow residents to stay for a weekend, experiencing life from the residents' vantage point. In the best communities, residents will brag about their home and ask your parents, "When are you moving in?"

3. Move ahead.If your parents stay at home but need help with chores or personal care, they'll experience adjustment to having people in their home. If they move to a retirement or assisted living community, the adjustment will be a bit different. They may mourn over the loss of their home and possessions. Staff will comfort, while attempting to engage them in community life. Within a few weeks, most frail elderly folks start making friends and feeling at home.

If this process sounds too time consuming, there are professionals who can shepherd you through the search process. More about them in an upcoming blog.

Can you think of other ways to help people in this search for a perfect retirement home?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seize the Day: Celebrate Your Elder

Daddy's 77th birthday was approaching. And we siblings knew that due to his advanced Parkinson's, it would probably be his last. Sadness hung over our family like a grey cloud.

Then my sister Carol devised a plan. Daddy had been a minister for 50 years, giving his very lifeblood serving his congregations. Carol contacted four of his churches and asked, Would they send him birthday cards?

Some 70 cards flooded in, along with messages that expressed heartfelt celebration and appreciation. The nurses read and reread them to him. One card included a snapshot of a 45-year-old. "Who is that handsome man?" the nurse asked Daddy. He cracked a knowing smile, as she said, "That's you."

Five days after his birthday he died. How thankful I was for those kudos his people bestowed on him.

Celebrating our elder is a wonderful gift. Even in the face of suffering and death, we can offer appreciation. Here are some of my observations:

1. Celebrate milestones.Birthdays, of course. When Lucie turned 100, her family and the nursing home staff granted her wish. "I want a horse," she'd announced. The nursing home activities director procured a miniature horse from a nearby church camp, and a stuffed pony from a local store. Imagine Lucie's face when the miniature horse appeared before her very eyes.

Milestones aren't just birthdays, though. Mabel's family knew she dreaded moving from assisted living to the nursing home. So they gathered the extended family around in a "blessing ceremony," thanking God for the assisted living room that had been Mabel's home for several years. And they annointed her with oil, praying a blessing on her and the new room.

2. Savor life's simple joys.Celebrations don't have to include ice sculptures or high tea. The main thing is connection. Our family gathers for fresh strawberry shortcake, which in Washington, signals the beginning of summer. Others bring their elder to the dock for the opening of fishing season. And of course, there's baseball, possibly the most senior friendly sport of all.

3. Gather the generations. Aging parents seem to love those great-grandchildren! And there's something magical about the unconditional love kids give back. Those folks in between are enriched by their elders, too.

Despite the circumstances, I want to take the time to celebrate our elders.

What are the ways you celebrate your aging parent?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Choosing the 'A-Team': Pros Who Work on Your Behalf

Remember B. A. Baracus? In the 80s blockbuster tv show, "The A-Team," B. A. led the charge. Buildings caved in, cars exploded and in the end, good triumphed over bad. Boys of all ages loved it!

We Boomers need an A-Team: pros who will charge forth on behalf of our parents, clearing obstacles, ripping through red tape, paving a way for excellence in eldercare.

Whether you're looking for home care, retirement living, assisted living, an adult family home or nursing care, or even in-home electronic devices, the first person you meet--the sales or marketing representative--might end up being a member of your "A-Team."

A great pro, of the A-plus variety will:

1. Put your parent on a pedestal. OK, not literally, but a great marketing rep will be more concerned about your parent's needs than "selling" unneeded services. In a friendly manner, the rep should ask open-ended questions, such as, "Tell me about your mom?" and "What prompted you to seek help?" and "What kind of timetable are you looking at?"

If your parent is with you, the rep should ask her some of the questions directly, and especially, "How do you feel about this?" Other questions will address finances, as well as the needs and desires of the entire family.

Hopefully, you won't feel like you're being grilled--the conversation aims to ferret out all the needs, and maybe unearth some you hadn't thought of earlier. Once everything is on the table, the marketer and you together can determine whether the services they have to offer will work.

2. Answer your questions. You may have questions relating to the quality of their services, such as, What is your caregiver turnover rate? Can I examine your state survey report? How long has leadership worked together in this organization? These are all potential indicators of quality. If the rep doesn't have the answer immediately, he or she should tell you that you'll get a phone call within a few days with the answer. Most important, he or she will keep this promise.

3. Never let "no" be the last word. If this company isn't the right fit for any reason, a great marketer should give you a next step: perhaps two referrals for local organizations that will work for you. And if you happen to see him or her on the street later, you'll receive a big smile, and a question, "How are things going with your mom?"

Have you met marketers that meet A-Team standards? Do you have experiences with others that you'd like to share?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Boomers Bridge the Generation Gap, Part Three

Boomers are the bridge. We connect people, old and young. But sometimes we feel worn and splintered, walked on from both sides.

We need to stop traffic and repair the bridge.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a research scientist and author, offers help. In her highly documented and readable book, The How of Happiness, she distills years of empirical research on the science of happiness.

She lists 10 ways to repair our bridges. In the last post, we discussed four. Here are the rest.

Happy people:

5. Take care of their body. When we feel like we're under siege, it's not the time to go for the Haagen Daas.
6. Nurture social relationships.Other people offer perspective, hope and humor. That's the rationale behind the success of support groups for family members of people suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other diseases. But most any activity involving community can nurture us, from golfing to auditing classes at the community college to enjoying coffee with friends.
7. Learn to forgive. When we fail to forgive, we're more likely to seek revenge or avoid certain people altogether, Lyubomirsky says. Either option steels joy. Forgiveness involves grieving our losses: the what's, the how's and the why's. And then letting go and seizing happiness.
8. Increase their "flow" experiences. Lyubomirsky describes "flow" activities as those in which we lose sense of time: fishing? sewing? reading? gardening? Whatever floats your boat, go for it. These pastimes soothe our souls and prepare us for the next day.
9. Savor life's joys.Enjoying sunsets, walks with the dog and simple pleasures help us renew and repair.
10. Commit to goals. Keeping promises and seeing things through brings joy and strengthens our foundation.

When you're feeling stepped on by both generations, what do you do? Tell us.
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