If you have bought into the idea that aging in place in the home you’ve maintained for 30+ years is the best answer to the question of where to live as you age, I can only conclude that you have decided it’s payback time for your children. Did your own parents live into their late 80s and 90s? Did they age in place? If so, how did that work out for you? Maybe you were one of the lucky ones whose parents lived happily on their own into their old age and then just died in their sleep one night, and now you are absolutely sure that is exactly what will happen to you. But what if it doesn’t?
Moira knows first-hand what it’s like to have a parent who refuses to move out of their home of 50 years. Her mother, Pat, has a home is debt-free and there is enough money coming in from social security and a small pension to meet expenses every month. In addition to that, Moira’s parents saved a substantial amount of money over the course of their lives and were planning to leave Moira and her brother, Will, a nice inheritance. However, both Moira and Will are in good shape financially and would rather their mother used the money to ensure herself a comfortable and safe life as she gets older. They have toured several assisted living communities and eventually even persuaded Pat to come along on one of their visits. But it didn’t change her mind.
No matter what Moira or Will said to Pat, she clung to the idea of aging in her two-story home. She claimed the stairs were good exercise and refused to even relocate her bedroom to the lower level. Moira and Will finally gave up the argument. Over the ensuing years, it has fallen to Moira, who lives nearby, to watch over her increasingly frail mother. Since she refuses any outside help, Moira drives her to the doctor, keeps track of her daily medications, helps her pay her bills, cooks many of the meals and tidies the house between professional cleanings. Recently, Moira had to reduce her work hours. Fortunately, her own kids are launched and on their own, but Moira is 62 and the additional responsibilities and worries about Pat falling have taken a huge toll on her. She worries constantly about how to keep her mother safe during Covid and is now realizing she may need to move in with her before long.
Seventy percent of us will need some kind of long-term care when we are 65 or older. Statistically, in the U.S., more than half of that care and assistance comes from family members and friends. If you plan to age in your current home, you may want to ask yourself if your family is prepared to help you when you need it. Someone will need to spend at least an hour or two a day with you if you need help with dressing, bathing, or any of the other activities of daily living. Even if you don’t need help with the more intimate activities, someone will need to clean your house, mow your lawn, shovel your snow, clear your gutters, and all the other minutiae of home ownership. Okay, you can pay to get all of that done, but who is it that will make all those arrangements if you are ill or incapacitated? Probably a family member.
Sometime in the second half of 2021, we should begin to see Covid receding in the rearview mirror, at least in the U.S., and older adults will once again be facing the big question of where to live as they get into their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. Throughout 2020, many people followed the news about the high infection and fatality rate among older adults in nursing homes and decided “I’m never going to live in one of those death traps.” And that is a good decision. Unfortunately, many people don’t really understand what nursing homes are and are not. They are a completely different kind of living experience than private-pay, continuing care or LifePlan communities and assisted living communities. In fact, the choice to live in one of these private-pay communities may well be the surest way of NOT ending up in the kind of “nursing home” that has made headlines this past year.
A nursing home is a predominantly Medicaid-funded facility. It houses frail, older adults who can no longer live on their own, generally because of a debilitating medical condition and/or failure to plan adequately for their older years. AARP recently put out a special edition of their monthly bulletin, “Covid-19 and Nursing Homes: An American Tragedy.” It’s a long, in-depth, well-researched story, so if you want to know more about this horrific situation, that’s a good place to start.
Back in 2018, Retirement Living published the results of a study on where “retirees” see themselves living as they get older. Here are two of their key findings:
- Just over 80% of respondents say they plan on living at home as they ag
- Seventy-five percent said failing health is the leading factor that would cause them to move into an assisted living community
The problem with these two statements is the lack of clarity about how and when that transition would occur. It brings up a number of questions. How will you know when you are no longer healthy enough to live on your own? Whose opinion on that will you trust? Where will the money come from for you to live in a private pay community or bring in the assistance you need? Do you know which assisted living community you want to move into if the need arises? These are questions that you can anticipate and plan for ahead of time. If you do, you will be saving yourself and your family members from trying to figure it out on short notice when everyone is maximally stressed.
If private-pay senior living is out of the question, older adults who live in larger homes should at least seriously consider downsizing to an environment that is manageable–for themselves and their family members. A smaller, one-level home or condominium can be a good solution, especially if it is in a community that has transportation options and provides optional services for older adults. Planning for this move should start early so it can be executed while everyone is still healthy and strong and can make well-researched choices.