By HARRIS MEYER
When her 86-year-old mother, a retired nurse with Alzheimer’s disease, started wandering away from her Tallahassee, Fla., home in 2007, LuMarie Polivka-West knew it was time to move her and her 94-year-old father into an assisted-living facility.
But because of the collapse in the real estate market, she couldn’t quickly sell her parents’ house to pay for a $3,200-per-month assisted-living apartment. So, for another year, while waiting for the house to sell, Polivka-West and her two brothers each contributed $600 a month to help their parents afford the assisted-living unit. “It was a significant cost to me and my brothers,” says Polivka-West, the senior director of policy at the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group. As for her parents, “It didn’t cause them anxiety, just us,” she says. “We didn’t let them know.”
In the fourth year of a depressed real estate market, experts say thousands of seniors remain unable to move into senior housing because they can’t sell their homes quickly enough or for the price they need. The upshot: Greater pressure on families to pay for parents’ and grandparents’ placements, or to care for them themselves.
Taylor recalls a woman who was on the verge of moving her elderly father, who had Parkinson’s disease, into an independent-living apartment. The Arizona Baptist facility in Phoenix had services to help him with mobility and daily activities. But then her parents decided they would both move into a regular apartment with no services, which cost 40 percent less, because they had sold their home for significantly less than they had anticipated. The daughter told Taylor she was sick with worry about her parents living on their own in that apartment.
In Florida alone, Polivka-West estimates there are 400,000 seniors with dementia living on their own at home, with few or no services. “The U.S. has a large aging population and we do not have a long-term care plan for this country,” she frets.
The housing slump also is affecting seniors who own a home and need to move into a nursing home. That’s because states require single seniors to exhaust nearly all their assets, including their home equity, to qualify for Medicaid. That federal-state program for the poor and disabled pays for many people’s long-term nursing home care.