In 2001, there were 35 million Americans over the age of 65, says Christina Stephens, Community Manager of Wedgewood South Assisted Living in Lubbock, Texas. "By 2025, there will be 62 million. That's almost double in 25 years. The fastest growing segment of our population is the 85 and older group, and half of them need some help with personal care."
The baby boomers, those born 1946 - 1964, will create the largest "Sandwich Generation" in history. Sandwichers are people in their 40s and 50s dealing with aging parents and the demands of children. Many of the resident family members Stephens deals with everyday at Wedgewood fall into this category and there is no ebb in sight. As the boomers age, they will be forced to deal with the realities of caring for elderly parents, adult children - many of whom have returned to the nest in light of recent economic struggles- and possibly even grandchildren.
The question remains, how do our boomers, the most economically sound generation to date, enjoy the retirement they've worked so hard for and manage the guilt associated with making tough decisions regarding aging parents?
"We think Wedgewood is the answer," says Stephens. "I see so many children visit our facility as they are beginning to consider assisted living care for parents or grandparents. They've seen too many Law Order episodes and read too many news reports about the kind facilities that abandon and neglect residents. We're nothing like that."
Wedgewood is different. Upon entry, the first scene I notice is two darling ladies chatting with a staff member about their outing to the beauty shop that afternoon. Beauty shop? I delve further.
It turns out; Wedgewood is not a state-run, glorified institution. Nor is it part of the gargantuan nursing home conglomerates notorious for high-cost and low-care we've seen in the news in recent years. Wedgewood is an outreach of Lutheran Social Services. They have living centers all over Texas, Wedgewood happens to be the West Texas arm of operation.
I asked Stephens what truly separates Wedgewood for other assisted living facilities. "We support an independent, active lifestyle. We offer our residents beautiful living facilities, plenty of activity and a network of support. We create a family environment."
A daunting task it is to even imagine taking mom, dad - or both - out of an environment they've know for years and placing them in, well, a home, the reality is that more American Baby Boomers will be faced with that decision sooner than they would care for.
It's not unrealistic to imagine dropping Amy off at the dorms in August and Mom at Wedgewood in October. As Stephens says, "Both hurt immensely, but the pain is dulled when you know they will be loved and cared for just as you would. That's really what Wedgewood offers, peace of mind."