The Over-50 Resource
Impoverished and Elderly

Adult children often must advocate on behalf of their parents.

by Lynn G. Coleman

Some baby boomers are barely hanging on financially, but know there is a safety net awaiting them
in the form of an inheritance. Others find themselves moving back in with their elderly parents
after a job layoff. Believe it or not, these are the lucky ones. Many people over 50 find themselves
in the position of having to take care of an impoverished parent.

Take Marcy, for example, who has held a decent-paying job as a legal secretary most of her life.
She managed to support herself, buy a small condo, and put some money into IRA’s and savings.
When Marcy was 48, her 73-year-old widowed mother, Anne, was “retired” from a low-paying retail
job. There was no pension plan, and Anne could not even afford her modest rent on what she
received from her husband's Social Security. She had little savings left after her husband’s long
illness and had been scraping by on $8 an hour since his death.

Since Marcy was the only unmarried child, Anne moved in with her. It was cramped quarters in a
one-bedroom condo, but the two managed for five years until Anne had a stroke. Then all hell broke

After a long rehab, Anne was left with severe memory loss, partial blindness and paralysis that
necessitated a lot of assistance with daily activities — bathing, dressing, preparing meals, shopping
and housecleaning. In addition, she now had a barrage of medications to take four times a day and
made constant trips to rehab and doctors.

Even with help from her sisters, Marcy was soon overwhelmed. She was not in a position to quit her
job and become a full-time caregiver, nor was there enough money to pay for an assisted-living
facility. She knew she needed to seek help, but didn’t know where to start. When she confided in a
friend at work, the friend steered her toward the local senior center.

Senior Centers Want to Help

Most senior centers have counselors who are knowledgeable about the private and public sources of
assistance for needy seniors. Help ranges from yard work and handyman services to prescription-
payment assistance to full-blown public aid, depending on the circumstances.

Marcy’s center housed a
Catholic Charities caseworker who immediately set Anne up with Meals-on-
Wheels. She also qualified for assistance from a housekeeper for cleaning, bathing and laundry, all
for a small (voluntary) donation.

Because Anne had such limited resources and no assets to speak of, the senior center suggested
that Marcy try to obtain public assistance through her state. This was no easy task, as you can
imagine, but it was worth the effort. (It helped that Anne was already receiving
Medicaid, which the
hospital had applied for on Anne’s behalf when she was unable to pay the portion of her bill not
covered by Medicare.)

It took many months of paperwork, follow-up phone calls and persistence by one of Marcy’s sisters,
but finally Anne received a case number that made her eligible for subsidized housing, food stamps
(now a plastic debit card, which carries less stigma) and medical care. Once she passed this hurdle,
Marcy was able to get Anne into a good
assisted-living facility.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that elderly public aid recipients are herded into
substandard facilities and left to rot. In Anne’s state, those eligible for subsidized housing have a
number of options for what is called
“supportive” living. This means that Anne’s facility sets aside
a certain number of units for Section 8 housing subsidized by the state. The rest are occupied by
self-paying residents, who pay as much as $40,000 a year. The apartments are the same, the care
is the same, and no one needs to know her circumstances. It is the humane and civilized thing for a
society to do for the working-poor elderly.


Where there is  
charity and
wisdom, there
is neither fear
nor ignorance.

~ St. Francis of

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