By Judi Markowitz
When Yeats penned his famous line, “That is no country for old men,” he might as well have been talking about the plight of baby boomers in America. In 2025, the oldest of us will be turning 80. This will result in an inordinate number of people requiring direct care services, in the form of support from agencies and family members.
Most retirees don’t have the savings to cover long-term care. This is a huge problem. With each passing day, boomers are creeping closer to this threshold. I am a baby boomer and I can’t help but wonder how our last chapter will read.
In the 1980’s, we baby boomers were appropriately dubbed “the sandwich generation.” Boomers were caught right smack in the middle of two slices of bread — our parents on one side and our children on the other.
My father passed away in 2001 at 85. He had been in a rehab facility convalescing from his regular “tune-ups.” My dad required blood transfusions and iron infusions. But we never knew when things would go sideways. Our usual course of action was to call an ambulance, give him an in-hospital transfusion and bring him home — all within a week.
But this last time was different. My dad’s strength was waning–walking was difficult, so he was sent to rehab. It was an upscale facility, and the staff was attentive. Physical and occupational therapy was his daily prescription and his ticket to go home. Insurance covered all of the costs My siblings and I visited every day, thinking this would be short-term, but we were wrong. Even with all our prodding and cheering, my dad wasn’t improving.
Shortly after my dad’s death in 2001, our childhood home was sold. My mother never slept in their bedroom again.
In 2016 Betsy Rust First Opinion wrote that “skilled nursing facilities are floundering while both home care and assisted living facilities are growing in popularity.” The problem here lies in funding. Since 2016 some states have increased Medicaid in order to cover expenses for these options. But the sad truth is that if you don’t have the funds most home and assisted living facilities are still private pay. We learned this all too well.
My siblings and I convinced my mom that a change of venue would be helpful. She agreed and nine months later moved into a newly renovated independent living apartment complex.
My mom was thrilled with her accommodations —out with the old and in with the new. She bought furniture, artwork, quilts, anything that would adorn her new digs. My mom seemed happy with the changes — she was 88 and vibrant. She was still driving and walking five miles a day.
But after two years, we started to notice changes. Before my dad passed away, we would always say that our mother could not exist without dad — they were always together. But much to our surprise, mom made it for nine more years. Unfortunately, it was a real rollercoaster ride that kept moving downward.
The first change occurred when my mom drove 25 miles out of her way to Fenton, Michigan. She was coming home from the market which was a quarter mile from her apartment. Instead of turning right, she merged on to the expressway and kept going. Finally at the Fenton exit, she meandered onto a backroad and asked for help. Without a cell phone, she was on her own.
A kind man rescued my mom and called us about her pilgrimage. We took the drive to Fenton to bring her home. After that incident, my mom’s car remained in the parking lot of her apartment building for a year, until our teenage son needed it. My sister Gayle and I became her limousine service.
And then, Sundowners arrived. According to Coleman Adult Day Services,” sunset can mean a time of increased confusion, frustration and agitation.” My mom would tell us there were musicians in the courtyard of the apartment complex performing several times a week. They kept her up at night. She also reported dogs barking and children running around at late hours. My mom even inquired about these disturbances at the rental office and they set her straight — there was no such occurrence.
After this, she fell out of bed and broke her wrist. We then hired a private caregiver to keep her company and keep her safe. My mom’s personal finances paid for the assistance — she didn’t have long-term health insurance which would have covered this expense. The caregiver came five days a week, and we did too. On the weekends, Gayle and I would visit her as well, go shopping, go out to lunch or take my mom to get her hair and nails done.
My mom liked the personal attention of the caregiver, that is, until she noticed that jewelry and checks were missing. The new hire was fired, and we began to look for more suitable living arrangements.
The next move was to the Coville Assisted Living apartments in Oak Park, Mich. It was basically a one-room residence with a bathroom and a kitchenette. However, the stove tops were no longer connected and no meal preparations were allowed.
A refrigerator and cabinets were utilized to stock all my mom’s favorites. Each day, the staff prepared three kosher meals and provided snacks. Residents ate together in a large dining room–it was definitely a social scene. There was even a communal area with a television and piano. It was filled with comfortable sofas and chairs. Staff were on site 24 hours a day and doctor visits could be arranged too.
The situation was great until it wasn’t. Once again, this was private pay for my mom because she did not qualify for a government subsidized room at the time.
Then, my mom started to visit other resident’s rooms—uninvited and in the evening as well. She also became an escapee. She would leave through the stairwell and walk the streets — after all, my mom did enjoy a long, brisk walk. We then hired a caregiver to keep her company and help with her daily living concerns—it worked.
However, dementia started to creep in. With medication, it was kept at bay for some time. Gloria, her companion, was a trustworthy and loving caregiver. She would occasionally bring her children and my mom enjoyed the distraction. Gloria would take my mom to social gatherings or watch TV with her. My mom preferred to hang out in the common area since she truly was not the social type.
But my mom’s days were numbered at Coville. Since she needed more assistance for daily living, the administrator pointed out that Coville was not intended for people who needed private help. Residents on my mom’s floor needed to be more independent.
Our next stop was a nursing home and my siblings, and I were horrified. I often reflect on the time my mother spent in a nursing facility. It wasn’t what we wanted, nor what we would have anticipated —but there we were in 2007, faced with this proposition. We pondered if any of us could care for my mom in our homes. We all had full-time jobs, families, and homes that didn’t accommodate our mother’s needs.
My mother’s next stop was the Alexander Mercy Living Center. It was two minutes from Huntington Woods, and we visited every day. Gayle and I alternated days and our brother Alan and his wife Cathy, who lived further away, came on most weekends. The grandchildren visited as well. And Gloria, her caregiver from Coville Assisted Living, followed suit. My mother had to spend down her remaining savings before Medicaid kicked in. Having savings in your name is a true disadvantage.
Just like Coville, the nursing home had activities to engage the residents. There was bingo, arts and crafts, a hair salon, and music was always played in the hallways. My mom was not a fan of the food service, so Gayle and I would bring her favorites — Chinese or on occasion McDonalds, with a chocolate milkshake.
The staff was dedicated, and I marveled at the job they did — it was not easy. But none of this mattered because my mom constantly asked to go home — it was heartbreaking. She passed away in 2010 at 97.
On many occasions when we visited, residents would be sitting outside their rooms listening to music broadcast through the sound system. They were either in wheelchairs, sitting independently or using the seat of a walker to enjoy the music of their past — Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday or Ray Charles.
I began to contemplate what it would be like when our generation filled these halls. What type of music would be blasting through the speakers? Will our favorite tunes of the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s be selected? Hopefully, they would take requests—Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, Metallica, and Carol King just to name a few.
My in-laws were another prime example of the aging predicament. They spent their life savings on private-pay homecare during their final years. Every cent they had saved to give their children and grandchildren was gone in a flash.
For five years they had round-the-clock caregivers who were a tremendous help. These ladies were nothing short of amazing—loving, compassionate and honest. My father-in law, Louie had Alzheimer’s and my mother-in-law, Claire fell, broke her hip, and then needed extra attention as well.
Family visited regularly and my husband Jeffrey was on-call for errands on a daily basis. Even though Louie’s memory was fading, he never forgot to greet Jeffrey by name when he walked through the door.
But the good part from this sad scenario was they were able to stay in their home until they passed away — sadly, just ten days apart from one another. It was May 2006.
In 2021, business writer Andrew Osterland reported ongoing research from the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan. The study indicated that an “estimated 20% of Americans will need no long-term care services before they die, about 55% will have low to moderate needs and 25% will have the type of severe need that most people dread.”
Unfortunately, baby boomers have a lot in common with their parents’ generation. As the years progress, we will face similar issues of requiring direct care from a facility or in our own homes. Finances will dictate where we land. However, there is an ever-present difference looming over boomers — our numbers are larger due to improvements in medicine but nursing home facilities are shrinking. Money comes into play once again.
A 2022 article from Forbes emphasized that “more and more aging baby boomers are living alone these days. It’s estimated that 26 million Americans over the age of 50 are living solo, making this the quickest-growing demographic in the U.S. They will have an impact on the housing market, eldercare and government programs shortly.” This is a frightening scenario.
By 2030 all baby boomers will be over 65 years old. They will comprise 20 percent of the population as well. With no real plan in sight, government funding in peril, and healthcare jobs that are unfilled, what is to become of our generation? The baton will be passed to our children — they will become the next sandwich generation. It’s an issue that causes alarm and remains unresolved.
Projected services to care for the boomers are alarming. Monthly costs for a homemaker or home health aide are approximately $5,000 a month, while nursing homes cost approximately $6,500 a month. Medicaid helps with costs when the individual qualifies. Facilities that cater to independent living, with step down aid for dementia, Alzheimer’s and other health issues may cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 a month as well. This figure also varies depending on the number of occupants in an apartment.
What are baby boomers to do? If there is no quick fix in sight, it’s a disaster about to happen.
Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.
Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.