The costs and options of senior care

My recent columns have focused on the aging of America and the types of housing that are available to the senior market. The basic fact of aging is that in San Diego County, 83 percent of the growth in the next 20 years will be folks who are 60 and older.

That might seem a little frightening because we traditionally do not think of San Diego County as a surrogate for Florida or the Coachella Valley. And yes, our median age is much lower than most states in the Midwest but, nonetheless, we are aging (at least some of us).

In this article, I will address the cost of housing seniors — those that are well and those that are fading.

Fortunately, most seniors are in decent health and certainly will live a lot longer than previous generations. It is likely that most seniors in this county will live well into their 80s. After all, folks who live here have generally not been working in coal mines, or dirty manufacturing plants or, for that matter, inclement weather. And surprisingly few have smoked their lives away.

In most senior households, the husband dies several, if not many, years before the wife. Two factors: Men are generally older than their wives when they marry and secondly, men have a habit of dying younger than women.

This said, there are far more senior women living alone than men and the vast majority live in the home where they raised a family and lived in peaceful retirement until hubby passed away.

The puzzle inevitably becomes more difficult when mom ages, yet resists moving from her longtime residence. At some point, mom needs someone to look after her, especially if she starts failing mentally or physically. Statistically, about half of folks who live until 85 have some form of memory loss. As an aside, this is the first generation of seniors that has had the great wave of memory loss because past generations died before they ever reached that stage of life.

Taking care of mom often presents a major problem because mom doesn’t want to leave the home she loves and she certainly doesn’t want to move in with one of her children, especially if that child isn’t living in the same area.

Having a caretaker for a senior is not a cheap endeavor. Perhaps it starts with a few hours a day but then gradually proceeds to full time. It would be terrific if everybody had long-term care insurance, but only 2 percent of the adult population has that blessed financial service.

Assuming a senior caretaker has some degree of training and is provided by a licensed service, the cost per hour is likely to be $15-20. Maybe at 25 hours a week, that is $500 a week or so. But then the care can gradually accelerate and turn into a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service that could cost from $2,000 to $3,000 per week or more. At that point, the child or children blow the whistle. Mom has to be moved to a more suitable environment, lest she blow the entire estate.

What are the options in this county? Well, if she is physically stable, can manage to get to a dining facility and doesn’t need regular medical care, there are many options. Typically, a nice facility offering a pleasant setting and edible food typically costs from $3,000 to $4,000 per month.

As the person’s health deteriorates, the cost per month starts to rise because they move from an independent living facility with food to assisted living. The difference is that assisted living facilities can offer some medical services and are under substantial state regulations. Those are in the $4,000 to $5,000 per month range.

At the top of the chain, in terms of cost, is the Alzheimer’s facility, where the monthly tab is typically $6,000 to $8,000 per month. Just for the record, that is $72,000 to $96,000 per year. The good news, though cruel, is that persons living in memory care facilities generally die within two years.

To end on a sunny note, for seniors who are capable of living alone and maintaining their own apartment, there are several viable options in the county where rents for an independent living environment are in the $1,200 to $1,800 per month range.

These facilities inevitably offer a broad range of social and wellness activities and provide a lifestyle that allows dignity in a friendly and comforting environment.

I recognize that this article assumes that the senior is a female, but a visit to any of the senior facilities in the county will show that to be the case at least 75 percent of the time.

The possibility of becoming an infirmed senior is not a pleasant one, but it is the reality of tomorrow.

Nevin is director of economic and market research at Xpera Group, the West Coast’s largest source of experts in construction and real estate.

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