Video: Trading Places is often a struggle

By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/17/2007 12:21:44 PM ET 2007-02-17T17:21:44

I am fortunate that I can afford first-class care for my mother. It's not all about money, but it sure helps.

Last summer, after some medical setbacks, my mother — Grandma Jean — knew she could no longer live alone so she agreed to move into an efficiency apartment in a nearby assisted living home.

She is very happy in her new home in Orange County.

"I like it fine," Jean Brokaw says. "It's very nice. They have entertainment all day."

And we're relieved because she has lots of company and meals are provided twice a day. We were lucky to find Maria to help her — getting dressed, taking her shopping, making sure she takes her medicine.

"She's great. We get along fine. I can kind of boss her around and she doesn't seem to care," Jean quips about Maria.

And my brother Mike who lives nearby is always on call, which is a huge help.

A few years ago, Mother, always a careful planner, bought long-term care insurance. But even with those payments, it costs around another $6,000 a month to keep her in the manner she deserves. And in our family, we're grateful every day we can afford that. But we're also aware that we're the exception, not the rule.

FAIRFIELD, Ala. — Morning comes early for Litisa Gaston — quietly — with Bible meditation. Then, it gets very busy raising her 3-year-old daughter, Ivanna, while caring for her mother, who suffers from a neurological condition that makes her walking difficult and clouds her memory.

But even with help from Litisa's husband, Isaac, getting everyone bathed, brushed, dressed and fed is hectic. Everyone worries every day as  Granny Alfreda tries to navigate 12 steep steps, then its off on a 40-minute drive. First, day care for toddlers, then day care for elders,
where activities and song remind the seniors of their past. And their future.

Then, finally, Litisa can head to her job as a Social Security claims processor.

"By the time I get here, I already did a full shift," Litisa says.

The family income is less than $50,000 a year including Granny's disability check, and the first priority is contributing 10 percent to their church, then $250 a month for the Medicare-subsidized day care. Other medical and personal supplies, plus keeping the family warm and fed, leaves the Gastons with no savings. They manage with patience and prayer. Having their mother at home is worth any price.

"I think if she had been with somebody else, she wouldn't be living," Isaac says.

Granny's few words make her wishes clear.

"I'd rather be at home," she says.

For Litisa, there is no time off and no time for herself, but she says the arrangement is a blessing.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," she says. "I can see the difference in her. I can see a joy in her. I feel like I have contributed something to that."

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