Traditionally in the African American community, the elderly have been regarded as pioneers of the family, the vine from which generations upon generations have sprouted. The Black elderly population (individuals 65 and older) today is 3.3 million people, and is expected to triple by 2050. With resources diminishing and many home providers working two jobs, many families may be wondering how they are going to take care of home and aging parents simultaneously.

Recently, assisted living has become a more prominent option.

What is assisted living?
A misconception about assisted living is that it is nursing home care. Although it does fall under the senior living category, assisted living allows individuals needing extra medical attention the freedom to live independently and choose the care services they receive.

Living in a controlled community or housing location of a patient’s choice, seniors are provided around-the-clock access to care providers, who may help with everyday needs like medication management, bathing, transportation, or cooking and eating meals. Residents who may have memory disorders or other related conditions can also receive care in an assisted living facility.

Unlike in nursing homes, seniors are able to move about freely, request for more or less care, and continue to choose their lifestyle.

Assisted living is a state regulated operation, therefore the rules, programs, and services vary from state to state.

Personal care homes, domiciliary care, board and care, residential care, adult foster care, sheltered housing, group homes, and adult family homes are also considered assisted living facilities.

According to the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA), there are more than 36,000 assisted living communities nationwide. Housing complexes range from multi-level, luxurious apartments to cozy 12-bedroom homes. The concept was conceived just over 25 years ago, and since then, has grown into a widely-used industry. However African Americans have not used it as much as White seniors.

In the report “Communities of Care: Assisted Living for African American Elders” by Mary M. Ball, nearly 93 percent of African American seniors are cared for by their children or relatives at home.

Ball writes that Blacks perceive elderly living institutions “as an insult to the ‘hands that raised, comforted, and fed them.’ This prevailing thought of ingratitude was held by the community, particularly the church.”

“The plight of Black elders and the struggle to care for them have roots in slavery. Anxiety regarding the abandonment of those elders, who no longer had a meaningful work role, prompted families to find ways to protect them in their last days … This caring practice undoubtedly came from original African society, which demonstrated respect and reverence for older persons,” Ball added.

With the transition from free Africans to bondsmen and women in America, the tradition, although being gradually rejected, remains prevalent among African Americans today.

However, the struggle to care for the elderly continues to grow, and in too many cases, has become a burden to families.

There are some historic ways African Americans have addressed this dilemma. Some time after slavery, Black Americans established homes for the aged for families who could no longer provide the necessary care.

While the stigma of abandoning the elderly may be attached to living facilities for the aged, assisted living options allows families to remain connected to their loved ones, provide the care needed, and maintain balance between the lives of both seniors and their other family members.

How does it work?
Paul Williams, senior director of government relations for ALFA, says most states require that seniors who want to go into assisted living undergo a physical examination by a doctor.

” . . . (the doctor determines if) their needs can be appropriately met at a facility; that’s a must,” he explained. “That protects people who are so frail that their needs are in a nursing-home level, where they’re not appropriate for us. (Physicians) need to be able to look at a potential resident and determine that their care needs can, in fact, be met at the assistant living level. Once they determine that their needs can be met, then (individuals) will visit a few communities they like.”

The process of choosing a facility is simple, but important. When searching for a community for a loved one or searching for yourself, be sure the facility is comfortable, has all the amenities necessary, and check over their cleaning routines. Some facilities offer religious accommodations as well, say industry experts.

Assisted living is not inexpensive, and is usually 85 percent privately funded. Pricing ranges anywhere between $1,800 and $6,000 a month, depending on the state, insurance, and community.

Historically, Black communities have had less access to resources and funding in every area of life, including elderly living, so caring for the aged at home has been the only option for many.

Although public funding for assisted living is limited, some insurance policies do exist to aide families with providing care. Ask your insurance providers for more information.

What are the pros and cons?
One of the more obvious benefits of assisted living includes removing some of the burden from families. Many parents despise feeling like a burden to their children, who are raising their own families. With assisted living, seniors no longer carry that load and families are less stressed.

Independence, which is arguably one of the more important factors in most people living longer lives, is maintained.

“The biggest thing is that the people who go into assisted living choose assisted living, and they really have a very, very wide range of the type of communities and type of services they can choose from to tailored (to) their lifestyles,” Williams said. “Just as important, when you go into one of our communities, all we are providing is help and care. It allows people to really maintain their independence and control over their lives, just as they would, if they were living on their own.”

On the other hand, the price for care can certainly turn anyone away.

Before families begin to stress too much about taking care of their elderly, assisted living may be an option that can help relieve some of the frustration, tension and burden.

Did you know?
Independent Retirement Community
* Apartment facilities with complete units (kitchen and bath).
* For active seniors, who are interested in group social events, but do not need personal or medical care.
* Home maintenance and often meals and housekeeping are provided.

Nursing home
* Provides 24-hour skilled care for more acute patients.
* Patients generally rely on assistance for most or all daily living activities (such as bathing, dressing and toileting).
* Because it is skilled care, in many cases it is covered by Medicare and secondary insurance for up to 100 days. Beyond that, it must be paid for privately.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)
* Programs providing independent and assisted living and nursing care.
* Most CCRCs are sponsored by non-profits, but the high costs of these programs make them generally inaccessible to low-income persons. There is no HUD financing or insurance associated with CCRCs.