There is currently a growing concern among baby boomers who have an elderly parent(s) or adult child(ren) with special needs, who either live with them or has chosen to live independently in their own home. There is some apprehension about how they will continue to care for their loved one if they themselves contract a debilitating injury or chronic illness. Specifically, they are anxious about the potential of no longer having someone to advocate or provide for their needs. This is an issue that needs further examination and discussion so that if and when this scenario plays out, measures can be taken to ensure the safety and protection of individuals in the senior and disability populations. Before I address this subject, certain dynamics need to be considered of each demographic.  

First, there is a trend for seniors to remain in their home for both personal and economic reasons. Financial constraints, personal well being or family involvement are only a few factors that contribute to their desire to live independently. According to research compiled by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), almost 90 percent of seniors desire to remain in their own home as they age or “aging in place.” Of that sample, 82 percent prefer to stay in their home with daily assistance or ongoing health care, 9 percent prefer a long term care facility and only 4 percent desire living in a relative’s home.

This generation of seniors is also living longer due to improved heath care and nutrition, and medical breakthroughs that improve treatment and outcomes of many diseases. A study of longevity named “Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being,” compiled data from various agencies concluded that “with the aging of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, America’s older population will double by 2030, reaching some 70 million.” This is a staggering figure!  

Regarding the special needs community, it should be noted that a high percentage of adults with disabilities are outliving their parents. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, more individuals are employed and connected with other activities in their community. The physical and cognitive benefits of working and building relationships also contribute to their longevity. But as time progresses, the aging process and/or one’s disability causes one’s physical and/or mental stamina to become compromised. Both seniors and special needs persons require some degree of assistance and monitoring to remain safe and stable in their home.

For the elderly, it is usually their adult children who get involved at this point. Despite all their responsibilities, family commitments and limited time, they are determined to provide the best care for their parents. It is also common for parents of adult children with special needs who remain at home, to be the only primary caregivers for their loved one over their lifetime. Many have had little, if any, family or outside support. They know the various needs of and specific cares for their children better than anyone.

However, as these two groups of baby boomers grow older, what will happen if they pass on or sustain a serious disability or chronic illness? Who will provide the support and care for their special needs child or elderly parent(s) if they have a prolonged illness or can no longer look after them? Who will advocate for his or her loved one if no one else can?

These questions and many others necessitate further dialogue. Hopefully, the concerns expressed in this article promote greater awareness and open discussion about this issue so that families and caregivers will be informed, encouraged and hopeful