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Retirement housing becoming a family affair

Each morning, Pat Gross and her mother, Rose Landis, sit at their dining room table, drink coffee and solve crossword puzzles. Pat works on The New York Times version, while her mom tackles the one in The Baltimore Sun.

"When they start to have problems they ask me for help," joked Pat's husband, John Gross, who plays on his Samsung tablet and catches up on the news while the two women work.


Pat, 68; John, 67; and Rose, 88, share the physical and mental space of a two-bedroom apartment at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville, where they moved more than two years ago in hopes of adapting an easier lifestyle.

Living with mom or dad again — or the in-laws — after years of independence isn't for everyone, but such living arrangements are becoming more common as the U.S. population ages and Americans live longer. While there appear to be no studies showing how frequently it occurs, many retirement communities in Maryland and elsewhere are seeing older children move into the same communities as their parents, sometimes even the same units.


Just as their parents did before them, when adults approach their 70s, they tire of mowing the lawn, shoveling snow and doing all of the other chores of maintaining a home. Many already are caregivers to their parents and, as they slow down themselves, find it easier if they live across the hall, in the building next door, or in the same apartment.

"From a continuing-care perspective, I could see how this would be attractive," said Jay Magaziner, a professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "If you live totally on your own and are taking care of an older parent and you fracture a hip, you are left to find help for yourself as well as continue to take care of your parent."

Such arrangements — especially living together — likely wouldn't work for many people, one geriatric specialist said.

The stress of becoming caretakers to parents and living in such proximity to them has the potential to hurt relationships, said Stephen Golant, a University of Florida geography professor, who specializes in gerontology. It also could be hard for the parent to form bonds with others at the community if they are dependent on their children.

"What I would be concerned about if I was in assisted living and my daughter moved in is if the most precious aspects of our relationship would be affected in a negative way," said Golant, who wrote a book about where seniors live, "Aging in the Right Place."

Whether the result of maturity or simple compatibility, being under one roof isn't a problem for John and Pat Gross and her mother.

"It works out perfectly for us," John Gross said. "We're all together, but we can also do what we want independently too."

You'll hear no mother-in-law jokes from John. He and Rose seem to enjoy each other's company. Pat rarely finds herself in the middle of disagreements between her husband and mother, so there's no worrying about having to take sides.


"We're like any other family," Pat said. "We do have our moments, but we get over them and move on."

Suffering from poor eyesight and leg pain from a bone disorder that makes it difficult to get around, Rose has lived with her daughter and son-in-law since 1983, after her husband died. Even before she moved into their two-story Linthicum home she depended on them to help her run errands or go to appointments because she didn't drive.

But now Rose can walk to activities throughout the retirement campus. She visits friends in their apartments and meets them for happy hour before dinner, even though she doesn't drink. She plays cards and goes to watch movies at the on-site theater. Not one to let her looks go, she visits the salon to get her hair styled once a week.

"I'm a social butterfly," she said.

Retirement communities like Charlestown have a pharmacy and medical staff on the premises so residents don't have to go elsewhere for basic care. On-site restaurants mean people don't have to cook unless they want, and if a pipe bursts or a light goes out, they can call the maintenance department to get it fixed.

Pat said she likes not having to climb steps every day and take care of a big house. Moving also made caring for her mother less complicated and she is less concerned about leaving her home alone.


"It's a safe environment for her," Pat said. "When my husband and I go out and do something, I don't have to worry about her. When I was in my old house I always thought, 'Please don't go upstairs until I get home.' I was scared she was going to fall. So it gives us some independence too."

The Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville had two generations of family residing there as recently as last summer, said Kristy Krueger, its vice president of sales and marketing. In recent months a mother and son were interested in moving in at the same time in separate living space near each other, she said.

In some cases, she added, adult children move into retirement communities earlier than they originally planned after seeing how much their parents enjoy living there.

"An additional benefit of course is being close to their parent as they move through the continuum of care," Krueger said. "I would expect we will see this trend continue in the years ahead."

Before coming to Broadmead two years ago, Krueger worked at a continuing-care community in Michigan for 20 years. Near the end of her tenure, a couple in their early 70s, the wife's mother and the husband's father all lived in the same community.

"They had an ongoing joke how they both loved their respective in-laws so much they wanted to live under the same roof," Krueger said.


Retirement communities are also good options for children who want to help their parents but keep separate living spaces and some degree of independence, said Joseph DeMattos Jr., president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.

"They are all still adults and privacy still matters," said DeMattos, who also teaches leadership in the graduate department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Erickson School of Aging. "Living in a retirement community gives you the best of both of worlds because you're close, but not under the same roof."

Bill Nash, who turns 100 in March, is happy his daughter, Carolyn Mills, and son-in-law, John A. Snyder, plan to move into the Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis where he lives. When they arrive later this year they'll be able to run errands for him, take him places and visit him more often — but not too often.

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"They are independent, and I am too," Nash said.

For their part, Mills, 76, and her husband, who is 83, decided it was time to move into a retirement community because it was getting too hard to maintain their house and seven acres of land in St. Michaels. Nash's love of Ginger Cove was all the endorsement they needed. The fact that he lived there was a bonus.

"He hasn't had too many emergencies, but now when he does, I don't think about running over there," Mills said. "Now I can just walk across the commons to his room."


Allen Geiwitz, a 71-year-old retired computer programmer, recently moved into the Glen Meadows retirement community in Glen Arm. His mother, Hilda Geiwitz, lives down the hall. Allen prepares his mother's cereal and coffee every morning and sets out her medication for when she wakes up. They eat dinner together and he takes her to doctor's appointments.

"I am right here with her," he said. "It is an ideal situation."