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Shared Housing can Help Seniors in Many Ways

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Dear Hunting,

It could be a great idea if your mom has the space and can find the right housemate/renter.

Shared housing among older adults has gotten a lot of attention lately as more and more people are recognizing that they can use their home to get help with a variety of needs, such as generating income, getting help with household chores, and even finding some much needed companionship.

But home sharing isn't for everyone. Your mom needs to carefully consider the pros and cons of renting out a room in her house, and make a list of what she wants (and doesn't want) in a housemate/renter.

To help her sort this out, the National Shared Housing Resource Center offers a 16-page "Consumers Guide to Home Sharing" that provides a self-questionnaire to those considering renting their home, along with a list of renter's questions and important points to discuss, and a sample home-sharing lease agreement that lays out the details in writing. This guide costs $10 and can be ordered at nationalsharedhousing.org.

Finding a Renter

After going through the guide, if your mom wants to proceed in finding a renter, a good first step is to contact a home-sharing program in her area that matches adults who are looking for shared housing with older adults who are looking to rent.

These programs handle background checks and other screenings, and consider lifestyle criteria when making matches. They can also help her with the leasing agreement that the renter would sign that covers issues like smoking, pets, chores, overnight guests, use of common rooms, etc.

Most home-sharing programs are free to use or request a small donation. Others, however, may charge the homeowner and potential renter a fee for this service.

here are dozens of home-sharing programs throughout the U.S. You can find a list of at the National Shared Housing Resource Center website at nationalsharedhousing.org.

If you don't find a program that serves your area, you can also search for housemates through national resources like Let's Share Housing (letssharehousing.com), the Golden Girls Network (goldengirlsnetwork.com) and Roommates 4 Boomers (roommates4boomers.com). All of these programs offer national Web-based matching programs and charge membership fees that run anywhere between $30 and $39.

If you don't have any luck with the home-sharing programs, put a call in to your Area Agency on Aging (call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for contact information) who may be able to offer assistance or refer you to local agencies or nonprofit organizations that offer shared housing help.

You can also check with the local senior or community center, church or temple that your mom attends to see if you can post an ad on their bulletin board or in their newsletter. Or, you can advertise in your local newspaper or online at roommates.com or craigslist.org.

If your mom finds someone on her own that she's interested in renting to, ask the prospective renter to fill out a "rental application" (see rentalleaseagreement.org to download and print one for free) and run a full tenant background check, and then call their references. Background checks can be ordered online through companies like starpointtenantscreening.com and screeningworks.com for a small fee.

Who Should Be

Screened for

Lung Cancer?

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about lung cancer screenings? My husband was a long-time smoker, but quit many years ago, so I'm wondering if he should be checked out.

Concerned Spouse

Dear Concerned,

According to recent recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force - an independent panel of medical experts that advises the government on health policies - if your husband is between the ages of 55 and 80, is a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years, and has a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years, he's at high risk for lung cancer and should talk to his doctor about getting screened.

Pack years are determined by multiplying the number of packs he smoked daily by the number of years he smoked.

You'll also be happy to know that lung cancer screenings - which are recommended annually to those at risk - will be covered by all private health insurance plans starting in 2015, and Medicare is expected to begin coverage this February or March. The Medicare screening, however, will only cover high-risk beneficiaries through age 74.

Lung cancer kills around 160,000 Americans each year making it the most deadly of all possible cancers. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Lung cancer also occurs predominantly in older adults. About two out of every three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older, and the risk of lung cancer peaks at age 71.

Lung Cancer Screening

The goal of annual screenings is to detect cancer early before symptoms appear, so it can be cured. The five-year survival rate among people with lung cancer when it's caught in its earliest stage is 77 percent, versus only 4 to 25 percent for people whose cancer has spread.

To get screened for lung cancer, your husband will need a low-dose computed tomography (CT) chest scan, which is a painless, noninvasive test that generates detailed three-dimensional images of his lungs.

For the screening, he will be asked to lie on a table that slides through the center of a large, doughnut shaped scanner that rotates around him to take images. Each scan takes just a few seconds, during which time he'll be asked to hold his breath, because movement can produce blurred images. The entire procedure takes only a few minutes from start to finish.

You also need to be aware that a lung CT screening has its downsides. First, it exposes you to some radiation - about the same as a mammography but more that of a chest X-ray.

Lung CT screenings aren't foolproof either. They can produce a high rate of false-positive results, which means they frequently detect small spots (abnormalities) on the lungs that are suggestive of cancer but aren't cancerous. These false alarms lead to more testing and sometimes lung biopsies, as well as unnecessary worry and anxiety.

Prevention

Because smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer cases, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to not smoke, and if you do smoke, quit. Even if you've been a smoker for a long time, quitting now still decreases your risk. Other factors that can increase the risk of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos and other toxic chemicals or fumes.

For more information on lung cancer screenings, call the American Lung Association at 800-586-4872, or use their online tool (LungCancerScreeningSavesLives.org), which will help you determine if your husband needs to be screened.

Editor's Note: Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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