All in the Family

As more GenXers care for aging parents, creative planning can help beat high costs

Five years ago Jan Bryant, government relations director at a nonprofit television network, found herself in the sandwich generation—those who are furthering their careers and raising their families while at the same time attending to their elderly parents.

At the time, Bryant was in her mid-30s and living in New York City. But then her father received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and required treatment unavailable where he lived in Oklahoma. After months of hand-wringing, Bryant, an only child whose parents had divorced in 1990, left New York and moved back to Denver—where her mother lived—with her father in tow.

For Bryant, the crisis was an unlikely way to bring her family back together. She, her mother, and father now live within four blocks of one another in Denver, and her parents get together daily and provide support to each other. “Financially, it was the only way to make it work,” she says.

Aging or infirm parents are one of the biggest financial squeezes on Americans born in the 1960s and 1970s. By Census Bureau tallies, the number of Americans 65 years of age or older is expected to exceed 40 million by next year’s census. At least 70% of them will need long-term care—help doing basic activities such as dressing and eating.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that older Americans had to move out of the homes they’d paid off and effectively bankrupt themselves to meet poverty guidelines and qualify for government healthcare assistance. Or they had to come up with the funds for costly assisted care. According to AARP, the average annual cost for a private room in a nursing home in 2007 was close to $78,000 nationwide. The annual bill for an assisted living facility came to an average of $35,628.

One way to save on care is to encourage seniors to stay in the home they’ve paid for, or in an affordable apartment.  “I think among African Americans, the sentiment is, ‘We take care of our own,’” says Karyne Jones, president and CEO of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. “For people who have paid for their homes or can afford rentals on their Social Security or pensions, staying at home and perhaps having some services provided can actually save between $1,200 and $1,700 a month compared with living in a nursing home or an assisted living community.”

People who want to help aging or infirm parents can use common sense and a little planning to make a difficult process a bit easier.  There are several steps you can take to establish a sure foundation for the seniors in your life.

Talk it out.
Start with a frank, heart-to-heart conversation between seniors and caregivers—sons, daughters, or other relatives. “At the center is good family communication,” suggests Gail Myers, a spokeswoman for New York State Office for the Aging. “The topics may not be the most comfortable, but talking is the only way to find out what older parents want and what you can do to help.”

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