Baby boomers naturally want to maintain a satisfying quality of life but, to do so, they’ll have to ask themselves some hard questions about what they — and their children — can realistically accomplish.
Baby boomers naturally want to maintain a satisfying quality of life but, to do so, they’ll have to ask themselves some hard questions about what they — and their children — can realistically accomplish.

The spectrum of aging is changing.

These days, baby boomers are grandparents. As much as they are unwilling to admit it, the boomer generation has begun to confront the issues of aging.

What does this societal transformation mean?

Here’s a sobering statistic: According to the best numbers I can find, only about 30 percent of us who are currently in our mid-sixties will enjoy an ongoing level of good health; one that allows us to remain independent. At some point, the rest will need some form of long-term care.

So, no matter where we see ourselves in this spectrum, our wishful thinking may end up butting heads with reality.

Care from our children

As we age, we want life to continue as it always has…we want to be engaged and active. We want to live independently, in the home to which we are accustomed and want to be safe and comfortable in our surroundings.

Whether we are 60 years old or 90, we expect and want our children to look after us as we age. We anticipate that our children will tend to our growing needs. Is this thinking realistic? Or is it idealistic? That depends.

In the U.S., the dynamic of multigenerational co-habitation – common in many cultures – is an aspect of living that we have largely abandoned. We have chosen to institutionalize senior living and the higher levels of care that come with aging.

With the cost of institutionalized care continually increasing, we may need to revisit the idea of several generations of a family living under one roof. It might be the only way our aging family members will be able to retain the quality of life they desire.

Boomer reality check

Currently, I believe the boomer generation has a lot to learn. 

Surveys report that boomers widely believe their children will be there for them in old age. But what does that mean, exactly? To what extent will children provide support?

Will our children be willing to mow, rake, weed, and water our yards so that we can continue to reside in the residence we’ve always called home? Are they going to change the light bulbs? Vacuum? Scrub the kitchen and bathroom? Repair leaking faucets? The chore list goes on and on.

If you can imagine yourself maintaining a second residential dwelling, this is what you’ll be asking of your kids. Wouldn’t they feel like they were working a second job running a bed and breakfast? Can they find the hours to give?

If living in a different part of the country, how will our children deal with us? Will they invite us to live with them?

These questions aren’t meant to make us feel unreasonable or selfish, but they are intended as reality checks.

Those boomers who are fortunate enough to have living parents are experiencing the same struggle: balancing the demands of making time for their parents with the demands of daily living. If retired, it’s easier to do; but many boomers continue to work.

How can you be strategic? 

Through conversations and teamwork.

Boomers need to rocket forward 15 or 20 years and ponder the impact of their aging on their children. 

Schedule a family pow-wow to talk about impending aging-related issues. Discuss action steps to address immediate needs and then ponder aging milestones you anticipate over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.

Topics should include: living locations — including transitions in levels of care — family support roles, long-term care wishes, medical directives, financial accountabilities, and so on.

In multigenerational conversations, you must be candid with your feelings and you must also allow your children and/or parents to be candid. The best aging transitions happen in families that are honest and open.

Be a good listener. Be open to not getting the response you want. If everyone speaks openly and states how they feel, reasonable boundaries and expectations can be set. This way, participants can jointly craft and agree to an aging plan.

What will that plan look like? The framework will vary from family to family. Success will depend on the commitment of the family.

For larger families, it will be easier to build and implement a framework — there are just more bodies on which to call. 

Smaller families will need to be more creative. They can solicit friends and/or hire professional caregivers to build out the support and care framework.

Make a 20- to 30-year plan. Anticipate future requirements. Periodically revisit the framework. Adjust to changing needs.

MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to marla@andelcare.com. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.