Providing For Parents

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Worries from afar can also be alleviated when doctors are willing to make house calls, a retro trend that is spreading among some geriatricians. The American Academy of Home Care Physicians has 700 members, and the number is growing at a rate of 10% a year, says president-elect Dr. Gresham Bayne, who belongs to a San Diego practice of 12 doctors who only make home visits. "This kind of option allows more critically ill senior citizens to remain at home and gives great peace of mind to their family members," Bayne says. "Baby boomers don't necessarily have to get on a plane and check up on Mom every time there is a medical issue."

A Boston organization is trying to come up with other techniques to address the needs of elderly parents living far from their baby-boomer offspring. Caring from a Distance, which started a year ago, is putting together a database that could potentially match elderly family members with volunteer caregivers, says president Ted Patton. "Let's say one adult child is living in New York and has a mother in California, and another baby boomer is in California and has a father in New York. The two could offer to be the eyes and ears for each other's family member, checking in with them on a regular basis and giving each other updates," says Patton, who hopes to have the program running by next year. "In a sense, we would be building our own senior-care community."

For boomers who are concerned about an elderly parent living alone, solace may come in the form of another kind of community-based initiative: home sharing. The Chicago Department of Aging last month launched a program to screen and match people 60 and older with compatible individuals in the same age range who are interested in sharing a home. Working with four social-service agencies, the program aims in its first year to match 30 seniors with 30 others who are willing to share their homes, says spokeswoman Tanya Mitchell. "Particularly for the older segment of this population, this will be a way to have companionship and save on household costs at the same time," says Carla Windhorst, director of community initiatives for Mather LifeWays, a not-for-profit organization that is assisting with the program.

Evanston resident Dan Brush, 74, a semiretired investment broker, is a firm believer in home sharing. For three years he has been sharing his 12-room house with another divorced man, introduced to him by a mutual friend. Although Brush is healthy and active, he appreciates having someone else around. He also saves about $3,000 a year on utility expenses. "This man had just got divorced and was looking for a new place to live, and I have a big home with a lot of space, so it seemed to make sense that we share this place and the expenses of running it," Brush says. "My three kids especially like the idea that there is another person in the house with me; it gives them — and me — a feeling of comfort."

Corporate America is beginning to get more involved in elder care too. U.S. companies lose $11 billion a year in reduced productivity, absenteeism and turnover from employees who have responsibilities with aging parents, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, which studies issues related to the senior market. In response, a growing number of employers are providing their workers with elder-care referrals through employee-assistance programs. One such program, ComPsych, began a service three years ago called Elder Outreach, through which it provides in-home assessments for employees' elderly family members, says chairman and CEO Richard Chaifetz. Often these two-to-four-hour assessments are free to employees.

More relief from the corporate sector could be on the way. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America is in conversation with several companies that are considering providing on-site day care for the older parents of employees. This is at least two to three years away from becoming a reality, says foundation CEO Eric Hall. "We have seen on-site child care in the workplace," he says. "I don't see why this wouldn't be workable for our aging parents, who have given so much of themselves to society. They deserve at least that much."

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