How Families Adapt to Aging Seniors
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

 The demographic landscape of America is changing, and more Americans are combining households out of necessity or by choice, as families adapt to the need to care for aging relatives. Whereas 50 years ago the only option for aging seniors was a nursing home, now there are plenty of other options that let them live more comfortably through their golden years. So how is the modern-day family adapting to include its aging seniors? Let’s take a look.

 The U.S. Census Bureau defines multigenerational families as those consisting of more than two generations living under the same roof. Recent surveys have shown that multigenerational living is becoming more of a trend in America for various reasons. Pew Research Center found that a record 64 million people, about one-fifth of the U.S. population, now live with multiple generations under one roof.

And AARP discovered through a 2018 survey that more and more adults ages 50 and over are willing to consider alternative living arrangements, including home sharing (32%), building an accessory dwelling unit (31%), and moving to communities that provide services that enable aging in place (56%). Research has found that aging seniors most want to find a community that will become a source of support and engagement for them as they age in place. Interestingly, views on home-sharing aren't that different between younger and older adults - about half of the younger ages say they would consider sharing a household simply for companionship. Evidently the culture of America is changing to include multigenerational living, long a staple in many cultures around the world but not so much for the USA.

What does this mean as family members look to reconfigure their living arrangements and lifestyles to address the aging of family members? Multigenerational households can look like the following:

1) The most common arrangement is the three-generation model – this is where one or more working adults, one or more of their children, and either aging parents or grandchildren are present in the household.

2) Grandfamilies are shown to be a very supportive way to raise children. This is where the household is headed by an older individual or couple who live with grandchildren under the age of 18 - whose parents may or may not be present also.

3) Two adult generations are also choosing to live together more often. Households with “boomerangs” (grown children who return to their childhood homes because of unemployment, underemployment, or for other reasons) are also on the rise.

4) Even the four-generation household, combining family from grandparents to grandchildren e, once a fairly rare combination, has become more common.
Gathering the extended family into a closer unit has multiple benefits to it, as well as some downsides. The most cited motivation for combining households is for financial reasons. Pooling resources can be a smart financial move for everyone involved, especially aging seniors who may be near or at retirement age, and who may have to live on a fixed income, but who may also own significant equity in property. As the family condenses into one living space, all the generations can adjust what would have been their individual portfolios, reflecting the new combination of resources and obligations.

Combining households also allow for families to pool their resources when it comes to sharing parental or household duties. Often grandparents can watch their grandchildren, help manage the household, help with cleaning and cooking, and be available for picking up or taking their grandkids to school while their parents work. This type of invisible unpaid labor is reciprocated when the adult children become more responsible for family caregiving as their elderly parents begin to age and require more care. The advantages of having family as caregivers are astronomical, including becoming a paid caregiver to your aging family member.
Another advantage to combining generations is that it might make more financial sense to remodel your current living space instead of trying to find elderly care facilities for your aging parents or in-laws. The National Association of Home Builders even offers certified aging-in-place specialists, and a directory of professionals who are trained in designing and planning for the best living spaces for the elderly. If you or your elderly relatives own your own home, it may be cheaper to renovate than to move to a new house or facility.

As you think about the changes to your living arrangements to accommodate your aging relatives, also be thinking about what kinds of technology or services they might need to stay at home if possible. One popular piece of tech is to invest in a life alert system. Research the medical alert system review sites to learn more and decide which might be the right one for your senior relatives. There is other technology to consider for your elderly roommates as well, such as smart watches, voice assistant technology (such as Alexa or Siri), and medication tracking devices. With today's Internet, no one is really alone, and seniors can stay connected to a vibrant, age-appropriate network - even as the grandkids keep them young at heart.

Any way you slice it, housing and a myriad lifestyle options will transform to reflect the growing trend toward multigenerational living.
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