My dad is a big man. He’s a big, 67-year-old man. And he fell in the shower. Mom called 911.
My parents live in a ubiquitous colonial-style, two-story home. It’s an old home where they raised my brothers and me. It’s full of nooks and crannies and secret hiding places, but it’s also full of narrow hallways, steep staircases, and upstairs bedrooms.
Navigating the sharp angles and the precipitous staircase was a challenge for the EMTs, but they got Dad to the hospital where he was treated. He’s now home, temporarily confined to a wheelchair – and the living room.
He can’t go up the stairs to his bedroom, or down to his beloved “man-cave” in the basement. He’s in the living room where he spends his nights sleeping on a recliner. His wheelchair takes him to the kitchen, but he can’t reach the cupboards where Mom hides the cookies. He can’t even reach the light switches without a struggle. He’s not happy.
Time for a family conference. Is this just the beginning? What if this were not temporary?
It’s hard to imagine because my parents are active and healthy. Mom loves her tennis and lunch with her friends. Dad works out every day, runs half marathons, and enjoys an occasional beer with his buddies. But it’s something to think about.
As people age (and they will), stairs become more difficult to climb, doorknobs become harder to turn, and showers become slippery. Even for the most fit, home and yard maintenance can become overwhelming and even dangerous.
My parents love their home. It’s full of memories; it’s close to neighbors. They intend to live here forever, to gracefully age in place. But let’s be realistic. Climbing stairs and ladders is not safe as people grow older.
Back to the family conference. What should we do? Can we renovate the home to make it accessible and safe for the rest of their lives? Should we encourage Mom and Dad to move to an active-adult senior community?
I ran across an article by Glenn Ruffenach in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How to Decide Whether To Move or Stay in Your House in Retirement.” Perfect. The article addresses the exact issues we are facing – and then some.
Homes can be remodeled and retrofitted, he says. But there’s more to consider than grab bars and first-floor bedrooms.
For instance, the expense. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit your home. Think if that is how you want to spend your retirement money. He goes on to say that a home retrofitted specifically for senior living may not be attractive to younger families when it comes time to sell the home.
Next, he mentions transportation. Mom and Dad live in the country, in a small town. They drive everywhere, to doctors’ appointments, to restaurants and shopping, to see friends. According to Mr. Ruffenach, the AAA has indicated that seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by seven to ten years. At some point, that might apply to my parents. And frankly, I hope they do live that long, even without a driver’s license. But they could no longer live independently.
Thirdly, he mentions socialization. I read frequently about how important this is in seniors’ lives. In fact, isolation is a leading factor in the mortality rate. My parents are very social. They have lots of friends, and my brothers and I visit often. But what if they can’t drive to see their friends?
An active adult community would offer all the socialization and activities they could possibly want, albeit with new friends. Either way, I suspect they will always remain socially active.
Finally, he hesitatingly mentions spouse and family. If one spouse dies, would the surviving spouse be better off in the current home or a senior community? He warns that this is a very important decision to make sooner, rather than later. Whether you choose to renovate your home or to move, he says, make the decision while it’s still your decision to make. If you fail to act while you are mentally and physically strong, someone else will make the decision for you.
As much as my parents love my brothers and me, I know they want to be independent and make this decision themselves. They probably have lots of time, but the 911 call scared me.
-The Oldest Daughter