NEW YORK (AP) -- Russell Hanford worried when his 82-year-old mother in Oregon grew frail, forcing his sister to juggle the demands of providing elder care, working as an attorney and tending to her own family. When their mother fell in the condo where she lived alone, Hanford knew it was time for a change.
''My sister was burning out,'' said Hanford, 42, of Seattle, who ruled out nursing homes as depressing. Instead, he chose an assisted living facility that offered individualized care, family brunches and high-tech equipment in a luxurious building.
''It was homey, and it provided one of the highest levels of care,'' Hanford said.
Pushed by boomer demands for quality care and concerns about nursing homes, the adult care industry is scrambling to provide options that will allow seniors to live in more home-like environments.
The choices include electronic monitors allowing doctors at remote locations to check on seniors living at home, part-time care in lavish assisted-living facilities and communities where healthier seniors can live out retirement in gyms and spas while older residents receive nursing care nearby.
''Boomers are far more discriminating consumers than their parents,'' said Ron Geraci, editor for My Generation, AARP's magazine for baby boomers. ''They're looking for a lot more choices in long-term care facilities. They want to make sure that their parents have really excellent care.''
Dr. Russell Hanford, helps his mom Lucine Hanford from her living room chair at the Aegis Assisted Living Facility in Kirkland, Tuesday March 19, 2002. Baby boomers are demanding more innovations aimed at catering to their loved ones when they choose health facilties.
AP Photo/Ralph Radford
The demand has been felt most notably in assisted care, which offers daily help in private apartments for a monthly rent.
Barely known in 1990, half of the more than 46,000 U.S. properties offering supportive housing for seniors today are assisted care facilities, partly due to boomers preferring the comfort, lower cost and perceived safety that many nursing homes don't offer, according to the National Investment Center.
The senior housing market is expected to triple from $126 billion in 2005 to $490 billion by 2030, when the first wave of boomers reach their mid-80s. Much of the growth is expected in assisted living and at-home care, according to NIC.
The concerns about nursing home care often focus on cost -- the homes charge about $60,000 per year, compared to $40,000 for part-time assisted care. But boomers also worry about reports of seniors being abused in nursing homes, experts say. Government figures show that nearly 26 percent of nursing homes were cited in 2000 for violations including actual harm to residents, poor record-keeping and the failure to put into practice policies intended to prevent abuse.
''I think the safety concerns in nursing homes will push back the idea that we can move mom and dad into a nursing home,'' said Joseph Coughlin, founder of the Age Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ''What we will find is that technology and services can help people stay in their houses longer.''
At MIT, researchers work with companies to develop home devices which can help seniors delay institutional care. Coughlin, a boomer himself, believes many homes in five years will have health stations to allow doctors to give remote checks of blood pressure and sugar level.
Also in the works: sensors placed on the body to detect changes in a person's gait or heartbeat or video cameras and microphones in the apartment to supplement the emergency call buttons seniors already use in adult care facilities.
Relying on technology is part of the strategy at Sunrise Assisted Living. Its at-home assisted living program complements visits by health providers with video monitoring and automated devices to dispense medication. If a senior fails to remove the dosage from the machine, a 24-hour response center is alerted.
Other companies focus on building a home-like community for seniors.
In addition to hosting family appreciation brunches, many assisted living facilities offer family rooms in their private apartments complete with Internet access, TVs with movies and Nintendos.
Other seniors are moving into cottages or apartments in continuing care retirement communities which come complete with whirlpool spas and gyms. The communities offer assisted living on site when residents start needing help with baths and feeding, as well as full-time nursing care.
Part of the hope is that as the nation's 76 million boomers plan for their parents' care, they will begin thinking about their own, said Bruce Rosenthal of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
Still, it's unclear whether boomers will accept the notion of growing old anytime soon.
''I'm not really thinking about it,'' Hanford said.
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