Economy makes roommates of elders and their adult children
firstname.lastname@example.org / JUN. 23, 2009
At 105, Eddith Moehr is on the cutting edge of a trend.
When she moved in with her daughter, 76-year-old Doris Beresford of North Natomas, at the end of 2007, Moehr became one of the 3.6 million older parents sharing living quarters with their adult children – a number that U.S. census figures indicate has increased 55 percent since 2000.
"I got a new roommate for my birthday in 2007," said Kathy Mullen, 60, who married Beresford last year.
"What a present!" said Beresford.
"Doris' mom is a treasure," said Mullen. "I'd like to be as gracious as she is about being old."
Sitting in her wheelchair at the kitchen table with them, Moehr sips chocolate Ensure and basks in their attention.
"Thank you," she said. "That's nice. Thank you, thank you."
California trails only Hawaii in its percentage of multigenerational family households, according to AARP statistics. Beyond cultural norms, tough economic conditions often play a part in families' decisions to house or move in with their elders.
At the same time, retirement communities and upscale assisted living centers that once had long waiting lists find themselves slammed with vacancies, says the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry.
The problem? Plummeting home prices have discouraged seniors from cashing out of their existing homes.
Given a choice, most seniors would prefer to continue living independently. But among health issues, economic pressures and diminishing public resources, that's not always possible.
Census figures show that California's elderly population is exploding twice as fast as the rest of the state's population – and it's expected to grow even faster as the baby boom generation continues aging. Yet proposed state budget cuts could slash services that help the elderly stay in their own homes.
"There will be more families put in a caregiving situation if we see cuts to home and community-based services," said AARP California's Christina Clem. "Families can help each other."
They may have to.
"People assume that older people in adult day care will end up in nursing homes one day," said Will Tipton, planner for the Area 4 Agency on Aging in Sacramento. "That's probably not an accurate expectation. There aren't a lot of Medi-Cal beds available in nursing homes.
"What's most likely is that Grandma or Grandpa will end up on your doorstep."
The challenges of multigenerational living can range from loss of privacy and financial independence to concerns about the stresses of caregiving.
"An active and able older person can be quite an asset in interacting with older children," said Area 4 Agency on Aging's Pat McVicar. "But that's not always the case. Sometimes, it's an added stress to the family."
For Beresford, the addition of her mother to the household is a pleasure rather than a burden.
"Having Mom here has really enriched our lives," said Beresford, a retired psychotherapist. "It feels like we're this family – more of a family than before. It's been quite an experience watching Kathy take care of my mother and seeing how loving she is."
An Ohio native, Moehr moved to Vallejo in 1951 with her husband. After he retired from the real estate business, the couple moved to Vacaville, where they volunteered as CPR instructors for 15 years. He died in 1997.
She lived alone in her own house – which she still owns – until she was 103, when Beresford grew concerned about her health.
"Up until that time, Doris would go over every week, and they'd go to Raley's together," said Mullen, a retired Sacramento water superintendent. "Mother would tootle around hanging onto the grocery cart."
Because of Moehr's declining health, she sleeps much of the day and can't be left home alone. She receives services from a local hospice organization as well as respite care from Home Instead Senior Care, a private agency that helps family caregivers.
"She started out here using her walker and being up all day," said Beresford. "We'd have breakfast together. I'd ask if she wanted coffee, and she'd say, 'That would be lovely.'
"These things are precious gifts. I'm so glad I have them."