- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

While house-hunting this fall, Ericka Bryson-Walker found herself not only trying to picture her furniture and decor in each room she entered, but she tried to see her mother there, too.

"Would Mom be comfortable here?" Mrs. Bryson-Walker wondered. "Could she do these stairs? Would she like the church here?"

In April, Mrs. Bryson-Walker's mother, Dora Jones, 49, will be leaving her longtime home in Long Island, N.Y., to live with Mrs. Bryson-Walker, her husband, Stanley, and their 1-year-old daughter, Iris.

The Temple Hills home they chose has a large bedroom and a connected bathroom for Mrs. Jones and plenty of space for her furniture. Still, it is difficult for Mrs. Bryson-Walker, chief case worker for the Greater Washington Urban League, to begin to picture life with her mother, whose failing health has dictated the change of residence.

"I know it will be a challenge for our family," Mrs. Walker says. "But I want to see my mother help raise my daughter. And she wants to be with us."

As long as parents remain in good health, most prefer to live on their own, says Concha Johnson, executive director of Senior Citizens Counseling and Delivery Service in Southeast Washington. But of the elderly who are ill or frail, most are cared for by adult children; not an institution.

"For some, it is the only option. Especially if the senior is disabled," says Mrs. Johnson, whose agency provides five senior centers with 36 different programs. "Whatever circumstances bring them together, it will be an adjustment."

In a national housing survey conducted last year by AARP, 29 percent of those people age 45 and older reported living with children or stepchildren. Another 4 percent lived with grandchildren. And their ranks will grow as baby boomers age, says David Pearce Snyder, the Bethesda-based lifestyles editor of Futurist Magazine, who predicts that by 2020, one-fourth of all U.S. households will include at least one elderly relative.

As families rise to the challenge of creating a multiple-generation home, they need to look closely at the expectations they bring to the new household, says Elinor Ginzler, manager of long-term care and independent living at AARP.

"The reality is, all moves are difficult. Questions need to be asked," Mrs. Ginzler says.

What, for instance, will happen to Grandpa's dog? His furniture? Does he mind sharing space with the family cats and dogs? Will he eat dinner with the family every night, or will he have a space of his own to store and eat food? Will he help finance an addition to the home should more space be needed?

"All these things need to be included in the discussion. The more that is talked about openly, the better," Mrs. Ginzler says.

In Mrs. Bryson-Walker's case, talking with her mom about the move has been a challenge due to a 1999 stroke that left Mrs. Jones with a language deficit. So Mrs. Bryson-Walker spends two weekends each month in New York visiting with her mom, learning to understand her speech and preparing her for the move.

"I get so excited sometimes. She asks how the house is coming and I tell her, or I say how much she'll like our church, how I know she's going to fit in," Mrs. Bryson-Walker says.

In addition to lots of discussion, exploration of the new environment can also help make parents feel like they fit in.

Mrs. Johnson suggests visits to the local grocery store, post office and bank, spending a day at the local senior center and tours of shopping areas.

"Expect a little depression. They're losing their home and that's a big deal. But they're also losing their social systems. They knew the man at the bank and the lady at the corner store, the pharmacist and the neighbors," Mrs. Johnson says. "Do a few dry runs through the vicinity. Hopefully, before they move they'll develop the social systems they'll need so they're not feeling isolated."

Mrs. Bryson-Walker plans to have her mother spend a week with her in the new house before she comes there to live.

"I want her to see the house and think of things she'll need to bring. I'll take a few days off and show her around," Mrs. Bryson-Walker says.

A guided tour might also prevent a parent from getting confused in new surroundings.

This month Richard Morton's 82-year-old grandmother moved from her daughter's home in the Bronx, N.Y., to his Northeast home and found herself lost in a nearby intersection.

"She's not used to being in this house. She can't find the kitchen," says Mr. Morton, who is discovering that his grandmother's mental health is rapidly declining.

It is important for adult children to know what kind of accommodations or financial assistance their elderly housemates will need. From simple items like railings along stairways to the need for nursing care, Mrs. Ginzler says everyone in the house must understand the commitment they are making.

"You need to talk nuts and bolts. Don't assume anything," Mrs. Ginzler says. Mr. Morton, for instance, didn't think of transferring his grandmother's Medicaid payments from her New York home to his Washington address. The other day he found himself paying for her $168 prescription out of his savings. His gas bill has also skyrocketed since his grandmother likes to keep the house warmer than he does. Another surprise: mounting long-distance phone bills.

"We make a lot of phone calls to hear familiar voices. That helps clear her head," Mr. Morton says.

Despite difficulties that have caused him to miss several days of work as a computer systems manager for a temp agency, Mr. Morton is standing by his commitment to his grandmother.

"I have an uncle who said, 'You didn't know what you were getting into,' and it's true; I didn't," says Mr. Morton, whose parents are deceased. "But it would be worse to take on the responsibility and then give it back. You really have to do it for yourself and for the love you feel for that person."

And ultimately, it is the unparalleled commitment of parent to child and child to parent that paves the way for generations to live successfully under one roof.

"It can bring a whole family together children, grandchildren and grandparents," Mrs. Johnson says. "It's not going to be without stress. Some parts are not going to be as pleasant as others. But with love and caring, it will work."

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