The gift of “aging in place”

July 30, 2015

Using the giftof aging in placewisely
The first time I visited Sicily and saw my 78-year-old great aunt zoom up stairs like these with ease–despite the altitude of about half a mile–I was amazed. No ranch homes or elevators in the tiny town of Gratteri. Everyone aged in place. 

That’s the term being used now for the time period when older people live in their homes and not in THE HOME.

But we don’t live in Sicily. An array of home choices lies before us and it’s up to us to choose wisely given our age and situation.

When we started looking for our home five years ago we fell in love with a huge, two-story house. It was more formal than our usual taste, had more bedrooms than we really required and featured a sweeping staircase toward the front door. I liked the open floor plan. There were a few reasons why we didn’t buy it, but one of them was that we planned to age there and wanted it to be as flexible as possible for any eventuality. After all, one of us could get sick–did we really want to add the complexity of navigating stairs to our recovery or to a changed life?

We didn’t.

But I know plenty of people my age and older who are denial about what could happen as they age. And then, have to face what HAS happened, leaving them to try to modify their home and lifestyle to a more difficult scenario.

Most people simply do not want to move out of the homes they’ve known and loved, even when faced with a debilitating diagnosis. Even if that home wasn’t the family home. And yet, if that place is difficult navigate on foot or wheelchair, moving to a more age-appropriate home is probably the best option.  As we age, most serious diseases do not get completely better. It’s likely that mobility (and life) will change significantly over time.

CVG5CHT04FM and I are realists. We have both been through serious illnesses of family and close friends. We simply did not want to cope with the expense and hassle of modifying a home to suit future debilitation. Instead, we bought a home flexible enough to handle changes as we aged, even though at the time, I was only in my late 50s.

An open floor plan, wide doorways and no stairs mean we can stay there longer and without exhausting ourselves just to get from bedroom to kitchen.

I have a friend with a debilitating chronic illness who simply did not want to leave her home, despite it being two stories with narrow hallways. She installed an electric chair and for the first couple years it was fine. But as she was hit with a weakening complication and confined to a wheelchair, it became exhausting for her to move from bed to wheelchair to stair chair and back to wheelchair. And it’s exhausting for her caregivers.

A few years earlier, she did have another option, which was to move to a one-story home near her kids. But she didn’t want to go through the hassle of moving, even though her friends and family would have actually done it. And she went through various renovation hassles without a backward glance. The truth is, she didn’t want to leave her home.

I’m not so sure she’d make the same decision today. But we don’t get to go back, do we?

I watch all my aging friends carefully these days, and try to learn from their experiences.

the_wisdom_pathNow, it’s very true that one of my best friends is in her mid 80s and only now beginning to see the impact of age.  She lives up a very long flight of exterior stairs in an unusually large and affordable apartment for her city. It’s true that she would be unable to find a similarly sweet deal anywhere else in her city. Absolutely not. But at the same time, she’s seen that in a weakened condition, it can be an ordeal to simply get downstairs to the car to go to the doctor.  It’s all trade-offs and she makes hers from the State of Denial some of the time. (I know you’re reading this, sugar, and yes, we’ll talk!)

I’m not big on fooling myself, not usually. (Although I’ve been known to.) But when it comes to lifestyle, I am a realist.  The ability to age in place is a gift that we should use wisely. It’s not offered to everyone.



23 comments on “The gift of “aging in place”
  1. Very wise words, aging is a gift that should be cherished. #KatherinesCorner

  2. Ann says:

    Reading what you wrote reminds me of my aging parents. My Dad is still very traditional and would balk at the idea of being sent to a home (it’s the duty of the kids to take care of aging parents) although my mom is more of a realist and have told us that she’d rather be in a home rather than burdening her kids. It would be a tricky conversation when the time comes, but I can totally understand why they would want to age in their own home.

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks for this post. It is wise to think about this matter ahead of time. People don’t want to give up their independence, which is understandable, to a point. Safety has to be priority. Yay to those who age in place and stay fit and healthy. And also hugs to those who, out of necessity, must leave their homes for a “home” or even living with relatives. Living with relatives can be difficult as well. It’s not really their home even given the best efforts to make it so. Change is difficult as we age.

  4. Anita Irlen says:

    I think with the nuclear family, and families living apart, lots of older adults are moving from the suburbs back to the larger cities. That’s definitely the case in NYC. The reasons are simple: elevator buildings, small shops, and restaurants on every corner. Granted, city life is not for everyone, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to “age in place” here. I love it.

  5. Kathy says:

    As a designer, I really appreciate the thought and wisdom you brought to this post, Carol. Aging in place is vital to the mental well being of seniors. Having recently downsized, I can state with some authority, midlife is the perfect time to assess your living situation. It’s a decision you want to make for yourself and if you wait too long, someone else will be making it for you, potentially destroying your sense of freedom of choice and independence. Good info. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Estelle says:

    It’s so smart to be a realist, Carol. That’s why my parents moved to independent living and are very happy now.

  7. My parents moved a lot. I lived in 5 different homes before I was 15 years old. They went from small to increasingly larger, then from the 4 story house to a two story to eventually the one story house because my dad had a terrible time with stairs (emphysema). R and I live in a large two story house…just the two of us. So much has been happening the last few years we haven’t kept up the house or been able to keep up with anything really….I have started to think about selling the ancestral home, but I am too busy trying to handle the “slings and arrows” to do much future planning. If you have time to plan, go for it!

  8. My husband and I are both in our early 50s and live in a two-story home. He would move to a one-story in a second. I’m not yet ready to make the move.

  9. Alana says:

    I shared this on Facebook, and hope that my mother in law will read this. She stayed in her home too long, but now is moving into a more senior friendly apartment. I want her to know she made the right choice, as harrowing as the downsizing process has been to her.

  10. I’m dealing with this issue at this very moment with my 83-year-old aunt who’s in Colorado Springs and I’m in Maine. She’s been hospitalized with pneumonia, is a fall risk and can no longer live completely on her own, so now my sister (who’s in California) and I are scrambling to find an independent-living facility because Auntie can’t go back to her apartment (and she’s refused to deal with this issue before now). It makes sense for Auntie to move to CA to be near my sister (who’s a nurse), but she’s balking because her friends — none of whom can really provide the support she needs — are in Colorado. So the next few weeks (while Auntie’s in rehab to regain her strength) should be interesting as Sis and I travel to CO to sort things out. Sigh.

  11. Jen says:

    One of the reasons why we bought this particular house (just a month ago!) was because we are prepared for the eventuality of having my mother live with us for a long while. We’ve got enough space at 1.75 acres to build her a little guest house for privacy & when that is no longer viable, there is plenty of room.

  12. Ajay Pai says:

    To deal situation with a realistic attitude makes the situation more easy to tackle with. A and I are planning to buy an apartment and this blog post of yours has planted that seed of realism in me. My aging parents are with us.

    Thanku for writing up such a realistic post.

  13. Fortunately we live in a one story home. I do see my friends with stairs they are unable to climb and worry. They don’t want to move and I understand that. It’s tough out there. But you’re right to start thinking about it earlier rather than later.

  14. trenna says:

    I grew up in a house with many stairs and my dream has always been to buy it back. Now it wouldn’t work because of age and disabilities. I still have the memories though. Great advice.

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