(or dad) moves in
Updated 5/15/2006 1:03 AM ET
By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY
For Linda Everson,
Mother's Day used to mean a five-hour drive north to Memphis to
fete her mom. But including her in this year's extended family gathering
was far simpler: Everson just took a five-step walk from her living
room into the 1,000-square-foot addition she and husband Tillman
built to accommodate "Miss Jane" Spencer.
Mom has moved in with the kids. And she's loving it. "I can't
say I don't miss my old life in Tennessee, my pastor, my friends,
my 92-year-old brother," says the 81-year-old matriarch, who
is dwarfed by the 12-foot ceilings of her antique-appointed bedroom.
"But on the other hand, it is so great to be with my family,
and they seem to enjoy having me."
Hold off on those mother-in-law jokes. Many baby boomers are finding
that retooling their homes to make room for parents offers peace
of mind about a loved one's health and assurance that their senior-suitable
houses will be ready for them as they age.
To date there are no statistics specifically dissecting this add-on-for-Mom-and-Pop
phenomenon, as most such home improvements involve getting a handyman
to make modest changes to spare rooms.
indicators point to the Eversons being on the leading edge of a
surging wave. The 2000 Census was the first to ask questions about
who is under each roof: 4% of U.S. households (3.9 million) now
have three or more generations living together, and one-third of
those feature parents who have invited grandparents to move in.
live longer, they're embracing a European style of intrafamily care
that was common here before children started moving time zones away
from parents. A 2004 study by the AARP and the National Alliance
for Caregiving revealed that 34 million people are looking after
someone 50 or older. Of those, nearly 9 million live with the person
they're caring for.
And prompted by a growing number of member requests for information
about making homes grandparent-friendly, the AARP designed a course
for contractors that is overseen by the National Association of
Home Builders. Its three-day CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist)
program "is the fastest-growing course we offer," with
more than 1,000 graduates, says Vince Butler, a Clifton, Va., contractor
who is chairman of the NAHB's Remodelers Council.
the goal was to explain that there'd be demand for this in the market,"
he says. "That's not necessary (now)."
are well aware of the market appeal of their newly expanded 4,000-square-foot
California contemporary home here in the leafy suburbs of Birmingham.
But the biggest improvement has been to Spencer's state of mind.
was all alone and very sad. We'd worry about her constantly,"
says Linda, 59. "These days, she's just so needed. My husband
and I both work, so when Mom's not watching her two great-grandkids,
she's helping with the cooking and the laundry. She hasn't been
this vital in 10 years."
are now hoping Tillman's 86-year-old mother, Frances, will enjoy
a similar renewal, courtesy of a second remodel. The couple has
commissioned architectural plans for an 800-square-foot suite
bedroom, walk-in closet and sitting room that would connect
with Miss Jane's bathroom. Frances Everson is mulling over the offer.
got her life there in Memphis, and I understand it's hard to leave
it behind," says Tillman, 63, a longtime BellSouth employee
who, with Linda, runs his own business placing high-tech workers
in part-time jobs. "But there's a good chance that one day,
we'll all be here under this roof."
And he does
mean all. Though the Eversons' three children are grown, they live
nearby. Which means that on any given afternoon, four generations
are racing around the split-level home surrounded by oak and dogwood
trees that has been in the family since the 1970s.
Bonding aside, aging-in-place experts note that there are practical
reasons for empty-nesters like the Eversons to be expanding, not
shrinking, their footprint.
in this sandwich generation, where parents care for both their parents
and their kids, are also working," says Elinor Ginzler, director
of the AARP's Livable Communities program. "So it's logical
and smart to try and have everyone in the same place."
By having multiple generations live together, you also tackle two
emerging problems with one solution, says Bob Brooks, CEO of online
resource ElderCarelink.com. "Today's elderly tend to resist
nursing homes. And they're also on very tight budgets, trying to
stretch dollars as they live longer," he says. "If you're
in your 90s and on a fixed income, there's a good chance you'd love
to be with your children."
a way for aging parents "to pass on early inheritances, since
they'll often offer to pay for some or all of a project that ultimately
makes their children's homes more valuable," he says.
There's no doubt
that overhauling a house using "universal design" will
boost both the property's value and functionality. CAPS contractors
use that sales pitch often; they just try to do so without reminding
boomer clients that they'll soon be getting old.
and contractor Butler says his clients have embraced everything
from wider doorways and halls (allows for wheelchair access) to
oversized stacked closets (converts easily to an elevator shaft).
"They like to say, 'Oh, it's for my parents,' but you can tell
they're excited about having these additions for the day that they
find it harder to get around."
The range of parent-oriented remodeling projects runs from modest
to inspiring. But the mission never wavers: make the newcomers feel
as independent as possible to smooth the transition from caregiver
to cared-for. Among the places where moms are cozying up to their
Calif. When Jonathan Hall's mother, Betty, 85, casually said, "I
could live here," he seized the opportunity to take a small
detached guest house and make it into a suite connected to his 1,300-square-foot
house. "I'd heard of parents really being resistant to leaving
their homes, but after my dad died, I really hoped she'd come stay
with me and my wife, Marjorie," he says.
The Halls, both
51, bought their house in 1993, and spent "more on the remodel
than the house itself, but it's worth it," Jonathan says. He
says it's nice having his mother around, though a bit of an adjustment
for all: "Let's just say, it's been a long time since we've
lived together." For her part, Betty Hall finds the setup ideal:
"It's private enough that I could go all day long without seeing
them. And yet I know they're right there."
In Houston. For Scott Martin, 46, making sure his mother-in-law,
Katherine Hutchison, 79, had a 900-square-foot suite attached by
a breezeway to their 6,800-square-foot home was a no-brainer. "She
led by example, taking care of her aging mother, so we could do
no less," he says.
Not that Hutchison
is packing her bags just yet. She's part of a generation "that
never wants to be a burden," says Martin, whose late mother
refused to move in. "It was crazy. Once, she fell down, and
instead of calling me, she just stayed there all night. When I asked
her why, she said, 'I didn't want to bother you.' Well, we hope
Katherine feels OK bothering us." The Martins have three children,
ages 10 to 17. How do they feel about Grandma moving in? "They'll
be just fine," Martin says, "until she busts them on something."
Bee Tyler, 85, says sharing a home with daughter Chris Harrill remains
an adjustment, "I'm sure for them mostly."
one of these people who say they want to be carried out of their
old homes, but slowly we're converting her," says Harrill,
53. Tyler spends weekdays in the 450-square-foot area that includes
a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom, then returns to her own home
on weekends, a compromise that began three months ago.
driven by need
Jane Spencer's journey from her home in Tennessee to her suite in
Alabama started on a grim day three years ago. She had made the
trip to Pelham for a family gathering accompanied by husband Roy.
"He was always the person with the most energy in any room,"
He died during
their visit, the victim of a brain aneurysm. Besides being heartbroken
this was the man who could fix everything in the house, who
played the organ when she sang in church Spencer was helpless.
Rheumatoid arthritis had long ago left her feet and hands in painful
knots, and she was hard-pressed to even open a jar of jam.
At first, home
was a guest room up a short flight of stairs. The trips up and down
were a battle; mostly, says daughter Linda, "she stayed in
that room and cried."
on to her house in Memphis, largely for sentimental reasons. But
it also housed a slew of anti-ques Roy had refinished, and she wouldn't
consider leaving without some keepsakes, including a bed from the
1800s that belonged to Roy's grandparents.
knew what they had to do. Build.
a very mutual decision, rooted in the simple fact that families
take care of each other. That's just what they do," Tillman
the decision even easier by offering to split the cost of what would
become a $143,000 addition, using money from the sale of her Memphis
home. Soon, CAPS-certified contractor Rob Baugher was paying frequent
visits to the house, connecting his laptop to the Eversons' oversized
TV to virtually walk his clients through the planned suite.
about designing a place for old folks, it's about designing a place
where everyone can live trouble-free," Baugher says.
He says typical
universal design techniques include putting wood blocks behind sheetrock
in places such as bathrooms to be able to add big grip bars; using
levers instead of round doorknobs; and framing windows identically
to doorways, in case an adjoining room is added later.
strolls through her mother's bedroom and knows it's more than a
well-appointed box tacked on to her family's home. It is another
lasting connection between mother and daughter.
"I hope she
lives to 110, believe you me," she says. "But I know that
when Mom's gone, Tillman and I will use this as a master bedroom,
and it'll be nice to be in here and think about her having lived
right here with us."