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Where do seniors live in America? Here’s where 11 call home

01/28/2024 6:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

From The Washington Post December 8, 2023

An analysis of the U.S. census data found less than 10 percent of people aged 85 and older live in nursing homes. See what 11 seniors say about where they chose to live as they age.

By Rachel Lerman, Federica Cocco

It’s one of the most critical questions facing aging Americans: Where to live as you get older, and may require more care?

Many might imagine living in a nursing home. But an analysis of census data by The Washington Post found less than 10 percent of 85-year-olds live in such a facility.

[Calculator: How much does elder care cost where you live?]

The analysis showed roughly half of the 5.9 million Americans age 85 and older are living with family, including spouses and adult children, while more than 40 percent live alone, including in independent living or assisted-living facilities. A quarter live in multigenerational households, with people of two or more generations under the same roof, and about 8 percent live in nursing homes or memory care facilities.

The Washington Post spoke with 11 people about where they chose to live as they age. Taken together, their situations mirror the census findings. Here’s what they said.

Ntividad Soriano Fernandez, Age 89 • San Leandro, Calif.

Natividad Soriano Fernandez, a former teacher who grew up in the Philippines, has lived with her daughter, Marigrace Fernandez Echalas, for Fernandez Echalas’s whole life.

“That is our culture,” said Soriano Fernandez, “I wanted to stay with my kids.”

According to The Post’s analysis of 2021 American Community Survey microdata, Asian Americans are the ethnic group least likely to move to nursing homes.

Natividad Soriano Fernandez, center, walks with her son Alvie and daughter Grace in front of her church. Natividad's bedroom mirror is covered with family photos. Natividad Fernandez holds her rosary.

In the Philippines, it’s common for families to build small homes on the same acreage so extended families can stay close, Soriano Fernandez said.

“For us, it’s just became our trend,” said Echalas. “Our parents can’t go to a nursing home because it’s not what they want.”

Soriano Fernandez also lives with two grandkids and Echalas’s husband. Their home is next to her oldest son’s house and a church the family attends, which Soriano Fernandez walks to for services every morning by 7.

Soriano Fernandez sits in the front yard of her daughter's house. “I’m old, she doesn’t want me to work,” she said.

Soriano Fernandez said her daughter has told her not to do chores at home.

But, sometimes she still does the dishes. “When she’s gone, I do it without her,” Soriano Fernandez said.

Lester Vallet Sr., Age 101 • New Orleans

Lester Vallet bought his New Orleans home in 1972 for $18,500 and he has no intention of leaving it — even now, at age 101. He lives alone there with his dog Pee-wee and he regularly walks to the nearby Triangle Deli for meals.

“Everybody around here brings me food,” he said of his close-knit neighborhood. “Everybody is just treating me like I’m their son.”

Vallet kept his balloons from his 101st birthday on his deck for weeks. A photo of Vallet and his late wife is displayed in the living room. Vallet regularly walks to the gas station near his house for lunch. Vallet lives with his beloved dog Pee-wee.

In Louisiana, 24 percent of men 85 and older live alone, a little less than the national average. Living alone is more common for women, who have longer life expectancies. About 44 percent of women in Louisiana who are 85 and older live alone, according to the Census.

Vallet, a former grounds supervisor for the New Orleans Saints, has lived alone since his wife of 50 years died about six years ago. After her death, his son wanted Vallet to move in with him.

Lester Vallet worked for the New Orleans Saints for more than a decade and is still a fan of the team.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to nobody,’” Vallet said. “I’ll live in my house until I die.”

Mabel Graves, Age 90 • Sioux Falls, S.D.

Mabel Graves worked for 17 years as a certified nursing assistant at a South Dakota nursing home. So she was entering a familiar environment when, about four years ago, she moved to Good Samaritan Society Sioux Falls Center, a nursing home.

Graves is one of about 16 percent of people 85 and older who live in a long-term care facility in South Dakota — one of the largest populations to do so in the country.

Graves works on puzzles with hundreds of pieces nearly every day at her home at the Sioux Falls Center where the staff also help her cope with muscle weakness caused by an autoimmune disorder.

Graves’ nursing home is operated by the Good Samaritan Society, which serves clients mostly in rural areas. The nonprofit said about half of its more than 5,500 residents across all its properties are on Medicaid, which is the primary payer for nursing homes across the United States.

Graves, who preferred not to share her own personal financial details, decided to move into the center when she needed help standing due to muscle weakness caused by an autoimmune disorder.

She spends her days putting together 500-piece puzzles, playing Bingo and going to church.

Graves moved into Sioux Falls Center about four years ago and regularly takes part in the community's activities. “I’m busy all day every day,” she said.

Her kids live close by and visit her regularly.

“The best thing is to have a positive attitude about what you’re going to do,” she said.

Larry Quinn, Age 89 • South Ogden, Utah

Larry Quinn does not like to sit still. He aims to walk 5,000 steps a day and is a regular hiker. In the last few years, he founded a walking group, a movie group and a therapy group in Ogden, Utah, about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Quinn came out as gay in December 2018. And in 2019, he and his wife divorced, leaving Quinn to live alone for the first time in decades.

“The first year was very lonely,” he said.

Quinn is an avid hiker, and stays busy with his partner Carl Blake by taking part in many activities with the queer community in Ogden. Quinn, seen as a younger man on the left, loves that he is never far from a trailhead in Utah.

That changed when Quinn got involved with the queer community in Ogden, and met Carl Blake in November 2021. The couple moved in together last year.

“We were spending so much time together, I finally said to him, ‘why don’t you just move in?'” Quinn said.

Quinn and his partner regularly see friends for dinner and card games. (Kim Raff for The Washington Post)

Quinn’s children and neighbors are supportive of his relationship with Blake and the couple are social butterflies with neighbors and friends.

“I can’t really put in good words how wonderful it is to be in a community where I’m totally accepted, I don’t have to worry,” he said. “I’m very, very lucky to have found that.”

Carol Kanna, Age 93 • Kauai, Hawaii

Carol Kanna’s life revolves around her family. Her daughter and son-in-law live with her in her home on Kauai. Her son lives next door. And another daughter lives two houses down.

“They’re always in my face!” she jokes of her close-knit family. “In a good way.”

Carol Kanna, center, regularly works on maintaining her orchid garden with family members. They often have meals together on Sundays. She keeps an altar in her home for her late husband.

Kanna is in good company in Hawaii, where more than 61 percent of people 85 and older live with their families according to The Post’s analysis. It’s the highest percentage in the country.

Kanna’s daughter moved in when Kanna’s husband got sick in 2001. He died that year, and her daughter offered to find her own place nearby. But Kanna said, “Well, what am I going to do? Stare at the wall by myself?” Mother and daughter have lived together since.

Kanna spends most Sundays outside with her family. (Akasha Rabut for The Washington Post)

Kanna said she’s comfortable in her family’s home, but admits she can’t do it all anymore. Her kids help her when she goes outside or does other activities. “I have my limits, they gave me my limits,” she said.

Robert S. Gregg, Age 100 • Fredericktown, Ohio

Every two weeks or so, Robert S. Gregg bakes up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and drives them to his son working at a farm near Fredericktown, Ohio.

He has no plans to stop the tradition any time soon. He celebrated his 100th birthday in March, and had his driver’s license renewed shortly after.

Gregg lives alone in the Fredericktown, Ohio farmhouse he shared with his wife for decades. “I think too many people spend their last few years wishing they could retire, and I think the longer you can work, why, the faster time goes,” he said.

Since his wife died about six years ago, Gregg has lived alone in the farmhouse they shared for more than 40 years.

His son stops by every day to make sure he is up, and his daughter regularly takes him to medical appointments.

Every morning Gregg makes breakfast and greets his son, Bruce. Sometimes he visits Bruce when he's working on farms. “I want to be sure that Bruce is doing his job right,” Gregg said jokingly. (Maddie McGarvey for The Washington Post)

Gregg’s daughter Susan Cunningham said her father has always been good at knowing his own limits, so she is not concerned about him living alone.

“In some ways it helps him live longer because he has to cook for himself and do things for himself,” she said.

Bernard V. King, Sr. and Yvonne P. King, Ages 87 • St. Petersburg, Fla.

Bernard V. King, Sr. and Yvonne P. King have never seriously considered living anywhere other than the St. Petersburg home they built in 1965.

“No, no, no,” Yvonne said.

“We want to stay home,” Bernard chimed in.

Bernard V. King, Sr. and Yvonne P. King live together in the St. Petersburg home they built in 1965. The couple raised three children, and Bernard now cares for his 1969 Volkswagen Beetle while Yvonne collects fine clothes.

The retired public school teachers have been together since college. They raised three children, paid off their house and retired in the early 1990s. As they aged, Bernard made the house safer by adding safety bars to their bathroom.

The Kings are among a large population of people 85 and older in Florida who live with family, including spouses — nearly 57 percent, one of the highest shares in the nation.

The Kings' daughter lives nearby and visits often to help her parents out around the house.

But they are not entirely solo. One of the Kings’ daughters lives nearby, and visits regularly to help with laundry and cleaning. And the Kings receive regular visits from their pastor and other church parishioners.

The couple enjoys the company, and are happy living on their own. “You’re at nobody’s else’s mercy,” Bernard said.

Gail Raab, Age 89 • Bloomfield, Conn.

Gail Raab has held two art shows at her Independent Living facility in the five years since she moved there.

Raab, a painter and collage artist, lived in an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side for decades before she suffered a fall and realized living alone wasn’t working for her anymore.

“My kids didn’t feel I was safe anymore,” she said. “I’m better off here.”

Raab's apartment at Duncaster is filled with her artwork and jewelry. She keeps a photo of her late husband on a bookshelf in her bedroom.

Raab moved to Duncaster in Bloomfield, Conn. The independent living facility supports her with household tasks multiple times a week. Staff help her take baths, unload the dishwasher and do laundry. If she eventually needs more help, she has the option of moving to an assisted living floor.

Many senior living facilities offer a similar “continuum of care model,” offering different levels of caregiving as seniors require more help. But these facilities can be expensive. According to AARP and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care the average monthly charge in the third quarter of 2021 for residents was $3,555, and facilities often charge an entrance fee in addition to monthly charges.

Duncaster offers different levels of caregiving as seniors require more help. But for now, Raab makes breakfast and lunch in her own apartment. (Bea Oyster/The Washington Post)

Raab said Duncaster is expensive, but she has money from selling her apartment and from her late husband, who died about 15 years ago. And she relies on her kids to handle her finances and assist her at medical appointments.

“Since I took care of them, they have their turn with me now,” she said.

George Smith, Age 96 • Pittsburgh

When George Smith’s wife died nearly seven years ago, he didn’t much care for living by himself. But over time, he has adjusted to his living situation, and takes comfort in keeping her urn in his apartment.

“I still miss her at night,” he said before taking out a note in his pocket with a date he doesn’t want to forget — Jan. 31, 2017, the day she died.

George Smith is a regular at the Vintage Center for Active Adults in Pittsburgh, where he watches dancing. At home, he watches church services on TV. He has adjusted to living alone since his wife, seen on their wedding day, died.

Smith’s children live nearby. His daughter manages his medications and his son, who lives in the same building, checks in with him daily.

Smith rides the county’s Access bus to the nearby Vintage Center for Active Adults, a senior center, multiple times a week. He volunteered for years there as a receptionist and served on the council, helping to shape programs and benefits for the organization.

Smith’s children live nearby and come around to help him. His daughter manages his medications and his son, who lives in the same building, checks in with him daily.

“As you get older, you can’t just sit around,” Smith said. “You have to get up and go out and be around people that you know and do things.”

Erlene Sumner, Age 90 • Houston

Erlene Sumner’s days of dancing at honky-tonks and going to church regularly are done. Instead, she fills her days with puzzle books, reading, visiting with family and watching “The Young and the Restless.”

Texas is one of the states with the highest share of people living in multigenerational households. Nearly 31 percent of people 85 and older in Texas live in households with at least two generations.

That works well for Sumner, who relies on the family she lives with for help. She can’t drive herself around anymore, but her family takes her to regular hair and nail appointments.

Sumner lives with her family in Houston, who help her get around. “I’d throw a fit if they didn’t,” she joked from her home she shares with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. “And sometimes I throw a fit just because I can!” Her daughter moved in when Sumner's late husband, seen in the left photo, got sick.

Sumner spent her life in Texas, growing up on a ranch near San Antonio then raising her seven kids in Austin and Houston.

Sumner’s daughter moved in to take care of her parents when Sumner’s husband got sick. He died in 2014. Sumner now lives with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend.

“I love the fact that she’s here,” Sumner said of her daughter. “She keeps me company, if I need something she’s right there, Johnny-on-the-spot ready to help out, anything she can.”

Sumner enjoys watching TV at home, especially “The Young and the Restless.” “There’s nothing about my life that I don’t like,” she said. (Danielle Villasana for The Washington Post)

Her daughter does most of the cooking now, but said her mom is not picky.

“I love bacon,” Sumner adds.

About this story

To examine the lives of people over 85 across the United States, The Post used a mixture of data from American Community Survey tables and the Public Use Microdata Sample from the ACS 2021 survey. The IPUMS online analysis system allowed reporters to limit survey respondents to those age 85 and older and retrieve estimates about group quarters, family size, multigenerational households and which states had particularly high shares of specific family profiles.

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