It’s natural to want to stay at home as you grow older. The familiar can be comforting as we face the losses that inevitably come with aging, and your home is likely filled with fond memories and your neighborhood with familiar people and places where everyone knows you. However, taking a step back to look at the big picture can help you decide whether staying at home for the long term truly is the right step for you.
Too often, decisions to leave home are made abruptly after a sudden loss or health crisis, making adjustments all the more painful and difficult.
In my family, it happened when my dad passed away and my mother suddenly saw herself without her loved husband in an empty nest with 6 spare rooms (we were a big family and we have a big house). These discussions were inevitable. What would mom do alone in our childhood home? It turns out that the earlier you and your family examine all the possibilities the easier it is to make the choice that’s right for both your aging parent(s) and your family. And what is more important, at the end of the day, that was a choice for my mother to take (unless she wouldn’t be able to, due to illness).
Is Aging in Place Right for You?
So this is the list we came up with, together, my brothers, my mother and I. A list that helped us to have a clearer idea of what would be the best move (or not to move). Of course, everyone’s needs vary, depending on factors such as how much support you have, your general health and mobility, and your financial situation.
Here are some of the issues to consider when evaluating your aging in place and home care options:
1. Location and accessibility
Where is your home located? Are you in a rural or suburban area that requires a lot of driving? If you’re in an area with more public transit, is it safe and easily accessible? How much time does it take you to get to services such as shopping, groceries, or medical appointments?
2. Support available
It’s also important to consider proximity to family members and friends who can come fast enough if something happens. Do you have family and friends nearby? How involved are they? Are they able to provide you the support you need? Many older adults prefer to rely on family to provide help, but as your needs increase, they might not be able to fill in all of the gaps. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if it is primarily on one person such as a spouse or child. Your relationships may be healthier if you are open to the idea of getting help from more than one source.
3. Home accessibility and maintenance
Is your home easily modified? Does it have a lot of steps or a steep hill to access? Do you have a large yard that needs to be maintained? Don’t forget about the more labor-intensive home maintenance tasks that you don’t think twice about doing yourself now. Cleaning out the gutters becomes a daunting task if you have begun to feel unsteady on a ladder. Even changing overhead light bulbs, washing windows and dragging the garbage cans to the curb can be difficult. The independence you achieve by remaining in your home is easily compromised by the struggle to perform these once-routine tasks. Can you handle the maintenance alone? If not, can you have employees and contractors do these chores for you? If so, are they reliable, can you trust them?
4. Everyday tasks
When you’re strong and healthy, you think you’ll never need help with everyday tasks like raking leaves, vacuuming floors, or even washing dishes. But as we age, these chores become more difficult. What about more personal tasks, like bathing? If you need help, have you identified the family member who will assist you? If that family member becomes unavailable, will you need a home health aide? If you do not have family or friends nearby, then you have fewer sources of available unpaid care, and a higher cost for living independently.
5. Meals and Nutrition
Cooking can become more of a chore and less of a pleasure — especially if you’re cooking for one. Unfortunately, this leads to irregular mealtimes and poor nutrition. And, poor nutrition causes illness and chronic bad health. Are you able to cook for yourself on a daily basis? And if you want to try something new, is it possible to order some delivery from some restaurant close by?
6. Home Security
As neighborhoods age and commercial districts encroach upon residential areas, security becomes a genuine issue. Security systems are not foolproof, response times can be slow, and many older homes do not have adequate safeguards, such as deadbolts and exterior lighting. Are your home and neighbourhood secure enough for you? Do you feel safe living alone, all by yourself, in your place?
7. Medical conditions
No one can predict the future. However, if you or your spouse has a chronic medical condition that is expected to worsen over time, it’s especially important to think about how you will handle health and mobility problems. What are common complications of your condition, and how will you handle them?
Making a budget with anticipated expenses can help you weigh the pros and cons of your situation. Alternate arrangements like assisted living can be expensive, but extensive in-home help can rapidly become expensive as well, especially at higher levels of care and live-in or 24-hour coverage.
If it becomes difficult or impossible for you to leave home without help, isolation can rapidly set in. You may not be able to participate in hobbies you once loved, stay involved in community service that kept you motivated, or visit with friends and family. Losing these connections and support is a recipe for depression. This is something to take into consideration if you move.
10. Your family’s opinions
Naturally, you have the final decision as to where you want to live, but input from family members can be helpful. Are they worried about your safety or a health problem that will eventually require heavy care? Listening to concerns and keeping an open mind are key.
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