Boomers bring greater expectations to changing industry

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Gina Duwe
Sunday, September 29, 2013

JANESVILLE—Baby boomers don't want to settle.

That's the view of Rick Sheridan, who is a member of the baby boomer generation and is the sales and marketing manager at Cedar Crest in Janesville.

Greater expectations from baby boomers as well as health care advances and longer life spans mean senior living communities are trending toward aging-in-place. The role of nursing homes has changed as assisted living communities have sprung up and a growth in in-home providers are allowing people to live their lives out at home.

“Even the idea that 70 is the new 50, 80 is the new 60, keep pushing the guidelines further away. (They're) still robust and healthy,” Sheridan said.

That means keeping people as independent as possible, in their homes longer and providing opportunities for people to age in the same place.

It's something that's been considered by Diane Skinner and her husband, Gil, owners of the Kelly House assisted living apartments and retirement duplexes in Evansville. Skinner, 63, has spent her life taking care of others, starting as a candy striper and working as a home-health nurse before starting Kelly House.

“For myself, I want to be able to age in place—in my home. Am I going to downsize at the right time?” she wonders. “I think that certainly all of us are thinking about that. Are we going to be able to stay where we are? Do we want to stay where we are? The other thing is, if we want to travel a whole bunch, do we need to be doing that right now?”

Considerations facing boomers—also referred to as the “sandwich generation”—include decisions they're helping their parents make now. While boomers are shuttling their kids to school and sports activities, they're checking in on parents and oftentimes acting as primary caregivers.

“The baby boomers we're seeing … when their parents need assistance, they still want to be there, but they're more active and involved in a lot more things,” said Pam Hatfield, branch manager of Janesville's BrightStar, which provides in-home medical and daily living assistance.

Rock County residents ages 55 and older make up 27 percent of the county's roughly 160,000 people, according to 2012 Census estimates. Those ages 65 and older make up 14.4 percent of the county population.

How times have changed

Jennifer Thompson, division manager of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Rock County, recalled a sad story a retired county work told her.

“They used to put people in nursing homes because of incontinence. They didn't have incontinence supplies, and so because of that they were in a nursing home,” she said. “Now, oh my gosh, that's so far from nursing home level of care.”

County Administrator Craig Knutson looked back to 1963, when the county's old nursing home Rock Haven opened.

“The nature of the residents was primarily ambulatory,” he said.

Rock Haven was a place people referred to as a “rest home” or nursing home.

“People were physically in much better shape than today in nursing care,” Knutson said.

Some Rock Haven residents in the 1960s went to the neighboring county farm and picked apples or tended cows, he said.

The level of care is “much, much higher” in nursing homes today. Some health conditions being managed now would have required hospitalizations 40 to 50 years ago, he said.

Today, nursing home residents must have much more acute conditions, requiring a different kind of building, Knutson said.

The county last spring opened its new Rock Haven.

“People spend years there. It's a much more homey atmosphere there. It's much more pleasant,” he said.

“The whole idea the state has is keeping people in their home and out of nursing homes, which is not a bad thing against nursing homes, it's really a cost-saving measure,” Thompson said.

Staying home

The changes have sparked a growth in in-home providers, who complete tasks to keep people in their home, Thompson said. They prepare meals and administer medications and help people get in and out of bed, dress and bathe.

Also on the rise are assisted-living homes, which provide multiple levels of care below skilled nursing.

“With the baby boomers, when they're looking for care for their parents, they're doing a way better job of educating themselves through the Internet and knowing the resources out there, so they know there's options,” Hatfield said.

Michelle Kyhn, owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Janesville, agreed.

Through more awareness, people are realizing they have choices among businesses that provide in-home care, she said.

“People are catching on to this a little earlier,” she said. “They used to wait until they were really sick, not realizing it was an option until it was almost too late. They're finding us earlier, and they're staying safer at home with a little extra help.”

Her agency as well as BrightStar help people with housekeeping, errands and medication reminders. They even provide 24-hour help for bathing, dressing and end-of-life care. Home Instead Senior Care does not provide medical services, but BrightStar is staffed by certified nursing assistants and registered nurses.

Most of Kyhn's clients are seniors who receive services from as little as a couple hours a month to several hours a day.

“Younger generations have been more used to paying for professional services,” she said.

Perhaps they had someone clean their homes or do yard work, she said, so having an agency provide care for daily living activities is just an extension of those services. How much that demand increases as boomers age will depend on their financial preparations, she said.

“I would guess that the trend will be coming to us sooner (as they're) realizing having help is not giving up independence, it's actually enhancing independence,” she said. 

Hatfield predicts more will be expected from providers as boomers age.

“I think it is because there is more choice, and people are more educated, and that's very good,” she said.

“The trend will continue where people will do everything they can to stay in their homes,” she said. “I think maybe we'll see more people with long-term care insurance policies to allow them to stay in their homes, and I think the expectations of their own care as far as the baby boomers go are going to be extremely high.”

Quality of life

The medical system is trying to keep people in the least restrictive living arrangements, said Carrie Cowan, a registered nurse team leader at Agrace HospiceCare, Janesville.

Cost is now more on people's minds as they talk about managed care and the Affordable Care Act, she said.

“I think that discussion becomes more forefront. Even 10 years ago to now, people are realizing that maybe it's not such a medical necessity as much as quality of life,” she said. “People see dying in an intensive care unit with tons of tubes and tests in the last few weeks may not always be the best options—that being at home with family might be a better option.”

Baby boomers are coming into the system in large numbers, and they are going to come with certain expectations when they're ready to downsize, said Sheridan of Cedar Crest. They'll want fitness centers and activities catered to their age group, he said.

Residents at Cedar Crest already are using iPads and e-readers and are not intimidated by the technology, but Sheridan said the boomers will bring working tech knowledge and facilities will need to support their tech needs.

He recalled a recent panel discussion of Cedar Crest residents who were talking to prospective residents. Residents said they wished they had moved sooner because they would have had more time to enjoy all the additional activities.

Diane Skinner of Kelly House and her husband are in an “aging group” of eight couples. They started meeting monthly about 18 months ago to talk about aging issues and what's important to them. They've talked a lot about the end-of-life care for their parents and how they want theirs to look.

“In our aging group, we all decided that whatever happens, we feel the sense of community is the most important thing, whether it be your family or your own community of friends,” she said.

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