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Housing For Senior Citizens: A Primer For Adult Children

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Perspective #3

Housing for Senior Citizens: A Primer for Adult Children

"The most commonly belleved myth In America . . . is that most senior cltlzens move trom thelr family home straight Into a nurslng home. In fact, only 5% of all senlors live In a nurslng home. And some of them are only there tor convalescent purposes and can eventually return to some form of independent living."

             Adult children of senior citizens face difficult situations every day. They worry about a mother who is over 70 and lives alone. She has taken a few falls recenty. She hasn't hurt herself yet, but her daughter worries that she may. They worry about a father-in-law who keeps causing house fires by falling asleep in his easy chair while cooking. He lives in another town and won't move in with his son even though he has been asked. They worry about a parent with a broken hip who is afraid she may have to give up her home and go into a nursing home. The doctors feel her hip will heal in a few months time. Her depression over this matter is more upsetting than her physical injury. These are just a few of the situations the Housing Bureau for Seniors try to deal with when helping the adult children of senior citizens with housing-related concerns. At a housing workshop for adult children held at the Burns Park Senior Center in Ann Arbor on Sept. 26, Housing Bureau social worker Carole Lapidos discussed the special problems of adult children: "Adult children often ask, 'Am I the one who has to make the decision for my parent?' They feel very vulnerable because this parent was the one who used to take care of them. That can feel scary," said Lapidos. Families caught in a situation where it becomes increasingly obvious that an aging relativo can no longer remain at home alone have a lot of emotional complications that get in the way of making wise housing decisions. "The most commonly believed myth in America," Lapidos claims, "is that most senior citizens move from their family home straight into a nursing home. In fact, only 5% of all seniors live in a nursing home. And some of them are only there for convalescent purposes and can eventually return to some form of independent living." A common complication for adult children is a parent's fear of "being sent off' to a nursing home. Seniors may not communicate their true health condition, often postponing minor surgery, or refusing to see a doctor. Senior parents may begin to send out mixed signals to their children who, sensing that something is wrong, begin to worry more than necessary over a parent's health. Some seniors may begin to play one child against another, refusing to admit to one child that anything is wrong while repeatedly telephoning another with a litany of complaints. "If you sense that this is happening," Lapidos advises, "get the family together to discuss the situation as soon as possible." These problems cut across all lines. Adult children who participated at the Burns Park workshop, as well as those who have contacted the Bureau previously, come from all economie and geographic backgrounds. They are professionals who have moved to Ann Arbor, leaving parents in another part of the country. They are rural Washtenaw County residents whose parents live just up the road. They are married couples with a growing family and a parent who has just failed her driving test in her home state. These and other families have found that they have been helped by talking over their situations with volunteer housing counselors at the Housing Bureau. Nearly a quarter of Housing Bureau clients are adult children who have come seeking advice about a parent's housing situation. Housing Counselors have grown adept at listening to families. They can help family members learn to talk to one another as well as provide the information families need in order to make housing choices. One piece of advice that adult children often welcome is the idea of letting the senior parent take part in this decision. Studies have shown that seniors who have participated in housing-related decisions are happier and experience greater wellbeing in later life. Adult children often forget that their parents have a lifetime of decisions behind them. Unless a senior citizen's mental health has deteriorated to the extent that she cannot make wise housing choices (which happens less frequently than prevailing aging myths would indícate), families are encouraged to work together. "Helping families work together to find solutions to housing problems is high on our list of priorities," says (see SENIOR HOUSING, page 30)

SENIOR HOUSING (cont. from page 7) Carolyn Hastings, Executive Director of the Housing Bureau. "In fact, we try to get families to start thinking about future housing problems long before they become problems." Planning ahead for senior living makes sense. Many area housing facilities for seniors have waiting lists. The length of the wait may vary from one location to another, but that doesn't help families who find that they have to make a decision for an aging parent now. The first option that often comes to mind is having the parent move in. This often presents many problems; more in fact than it solves. Studies indícate that it is not a desirable solution if convenient alternative can be found. "Most clients wait until there's a crisis before coming to us," observes Lapidos. "That's really sad because people don't always make good decisions in a crisis. And for the senior involved, this is a very important decision. It should not be made hastily." A good idea for seniors and their families is to look ahead and to shop around. There are a variety of convenient living locations in this country. In addition to senior highrises and retirement homes, there are many private apartments and a wealth of in-home services to make independent senior living easier. in learning about senior living arrangements, adult children may even learn to provide for themselves and their own future housing needs. Anita Perry, currently a resident at Lurie Terrace in Ann Arbor, is a good example of an adult child who first carne to the Housing Bureau asking for help with her mother. "In mother's case," Perry says, "she really wasn't able to be helped very much. She had health problems that precluded many of the possible choices. Then again, she didn't really know what she wanted, which made choosing any alternative to a nursing home very difficult." Perry found that she herself profited from the Housing Bureau, however. They helped me understand this process better, and after my mother's death, I decided to put myself on the waiting list at Lurie Terrace. When I moved in I was the youngest tenant!" Perry now works as a volunteer at the Housing Bureau once a week.


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