November 4, 2020

How Covid Might Affect Your Retirement Housing Choices


As of bedtime for me on Tuesday night there remains well over ten million early and mail-in votes still to count. The nightmare continues for another day or two. 

So, this is a post about something other than the election, politics, and the mess in which we find ourselves. Take a brief break from all the angst and focus on something that is quite important to your future (as much as the subject I am avoiding for now!)

In August, I had an idea to write about Covid and housing. Naively, I thought we were "rounding the turn," as someone said. After five months, I thought we would have a handle on how to control the spread of this disease. I could take a look at how retirement housing may change with the course of our future a little clearer.

Here I am three months later, and the housing picture is no easier to predict. Pandemic infections are getting worse. Vaccines are not available until some time next year. What could have been a four or five-month battle is turning into an open-ended war with casualties mounting day after day. 

So, my thoughts on what all of this may mean to our housing choices and options remain more guesswork than fact, unfortunately. But, I am not one to avoid a roll of the dice. So, here goes:


Staying put until full-time nursing care needed. At this moment, many of us have been scared away from crowded places. The advice to stay safe has had all the consistency of jelly. We have been forced to decide our own approach. That means our home, whether that is a house, apartment, condo, or even an RV, begins to look like our best option. We control our interior conditions and venture out when we must. 

The ability to get assistance in cleaning, food delivery, or medical and health care makes staying in place a viable choice. Moving in with family or buying a home that can handle a few generations living together may be a option we see expanding.


Housing prices rising rapidly. In many areas of the country, housing prices are steadily rising. In my area, homes are often selling quickly and for more than the listing price. These conditions may prompt you to decide now is the time to take your equity and use it for another housing choice. Others may decide to rent and wait for conditions to stabilize before making a more permanent decision. 

Not surprisingly, rental costs and occupancy rates are increasing, reflecting the overall strength of the market. These factors may mean your apartment or house rental choices may be limited or more expensive than you are comfortable with. But, the flexibility this choice brings makes this decision right for you.


Housing prices start to decline after another year of Covid-based disruption. Housing prices are on a cycle like everything else in our economy. We all remember the loss of billions of dollars in home value during the 2008-9 recession. If you own a house and, for a variety of reasons, decide now is not the best time to sell, you understand the market is not likely to be where it is today when you are ready to move. 

The pandemic effect on the economy and how long-lasting those negatives will be with us are unknown. But, if we are still in some sort of lockdown-social distancing-fear of crowds-closed business mode, it seems reasonable to expect a softening of the housing marketplace. If that is the case, your option to sell and move to retirement housing will be affected.


Retirement housing may become more difficult to find or move into. For the reasons mentioned above, there will either be a rush to cash in on rising housing prices or an inability to do so because of a contraction in prices. 

Pandemic effects on the current retirement housing market have been well-documented. Certain housing types, especially assisted living and nursing care, have suffered from higher rates of infections and deaths. Obviously, the older someone is, the more likely to be negatively affected by a serious illness or disease. 

More crowded conditions, less privacy and space, plus a lack of specialized training and equipment, and these choices are less attractive at this time. Fewer people are willing to risk being locked away from family if a pandemic-type disease occurs. 

This means retirement communities will have to consider new housing models, with social distancing in mind. Smaller dining areas, with no more buffet lines or open tables of desserts, seem likely. Multiple dining times, so only a percentage of the residents are gathering at any one time, may become standard. Better ventilation, temperature checks at the entrance, and several steps could be taken, but they will be expensive and reinforce the image of an inherently more dangerous place.


Cohousing becomes a more mainstream choice. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but a small number of individuals could form something similar to a closed nuclear family environment. Interactions with "outsiders" would be limited. Living, socializing, and cooking together would provide social interaction essential to good mental and physical health. 

Cohousing has developed to the point where all sorts of arrangements are possible: same-sex, mixed gender, lifestyle, and religious similarities are available in most major cities. 



A pandemic has the power to upend our life, our economic viability, our family, our health. What the effects might be on our choice of where to live are still unknown, but we can all agree there will be adjustments.

Your (non-political) thoughts are appreciated.


47 comments:

  1. Dear Bob, am hoping my next address is the graveyard, (but not just yet ;) want to stay in my home, because - among other significant reasons - senior housing is expensive, and will about drain the kids' inheritance to zilch.

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  2. I hope to remain in my home. I have no close family so some options are not available for me. I am very independent and hope to stay that way until I hope to die at home. Never want a nursing facility if I have a voice. Hoping that end of life choices change in the next few years in my state so I have some say in what I want done or what I would like to do as the time gets closer.

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  3. I’m for the stay in your home group.
    I own my home and my SIL shares it with me, for companionship, not finances. It’s large enough, so we have our own space. We are 73, 75 and currently healthy, but you never know the future.

    Personally I will stay her and hire out what ever I need, but when it gets to the point this is no longer possible, I’ll just find a way to check out. I’m determined never to go into a nursing g home and just wait to die, while every bit of my money I’ve saved is eaten up in outrageous costs.

    When I can no longer wheel to a bathroom or the microwave and become confined to live in a bed..I’m outta here. I’ll have to take matters in my own hand, as I don’t live in a state that has death with dignity laws. It’s the South, so these states never will either. Too old to think about moving now...and I like the weather here in Fla.

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    1. Mary,
      I have my checkout planned. I will never live in a nursing home, either. I am 74.

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    2. Interestingly, these comments share a common thread: maintaining control as long as possible, including to the point of choosing when one dies. At this point, eight states have laws in place that permit someone to "die with dignity."

      Also, staying in familiar surroundings to the bitter end is so important to so many people. With costs being what they are, that is a reasonable decision.

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  4. Almost all of us want to remain independent and stay in our own homes as long as possible. If you live to a ripe old age (and don't we all want to do that) there often comes a time when that might not be possible. Both my mother and father stayed alone in their own homes too long and both had to leave due to a bad fall in their homes. Five years ago my father fell , he was 92 at the time, never recovered from his fall and died in hospital 3 months later.

    My mother was 90 when she had her fall (about 18 months ago). While she wasn't seriously hurt and was discharged after 6 weeks of physical therapy rehabilitation but with mobility issues it was clear she could no longer live on her own. After a lot of rushing around during her rehabilitation stay we found an apartment in a nice retirement residence for her and while it's not cheap her pension mostly cover the rent and the proceeds from the sale of her condo is more than enough to cover any expenses.

    Covid, of course, has really changed things at her retirement residence. Visiting must be prearranged and there are several Covid safety measures to meet for each visit. Her retirement residence has implemented almost all of the Covid measures you mentioned - smaller dining areas, no buffet lines or open tables of salads or desserts, multiple dining times, only one tablemate (always the same person) and at a 6 foot distance, better ventilation and temperature checks, mandatory masks except when in your own apartment or when eating in the dining room.

    With Covid around we'll keep her in her current retirement residence as long as we can, which has so far remained free of Covid throughout the pandemic, but my mother is showing clear signs of dementia and we now recognize she had a few early signs even before her fall. In consultation with the retirement residence and with the supports there she can stay where she is for now. We are investigating long term care for her but there is no way of knowing how the dementia will progress or how long she can stay at her retirement residence.

    The experience of my parents has brought home to me that I need to be realistic. At age 67 I am doing well now, and hopefully will for another couple of decades, but it won't always be this way. If we are lucky enough to age into our mid to late 80s we really should be prepared to consider alternatives to staying in our own homes. It's true that some people play a game of tennis on their 90th birthday and we all hope that will be us too but for most of us it doesn't usually go that way. Don’t leave the decision until it’s too late.

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    1. I have mentioned this in other posts, but the reality is many retirement communities that provide assisted living and nursing care require a new resident to be healthy enough to move there. They usually will not take someone who needs to go directly into full time nursing care. That leaves someone with limited choices, many of which are not all that attractive.

      While staying independent for as long as possible is a laudable goal, there is a real risk of waiting too long and ending up in a less-than-ideal facility, or putting your family in a tough situation of providing full time care while they desperately search for a facility that will take the patient.

      I will move into a three-level facility at some point to make sure I have my bases covered and I am not going to put my family in a bind.

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    2. We don't really have those three-level places here in Ontario (not that I'm aware of anyway) but for the apartment in the retirement residence my mother moved to she had to meet certain "able bodied" requirements. There weren't onerous - be able to toilet yourself, get in an out of bed by yourself, get yourself down to the dining room for meals - but for my mother she needed the full 6 weeks of physical therapy rehabilitation to get reliably to that level. In your 90s seemingly simple things can be challenging. Her motivation was so she didn't have to go to a long term care facility. (Though unlike retirement residences LTC homes here are government subsidized and less costly than a regular retirement residence.)

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  5. I've doen sized to a single level apartment and plan to be here as long as I can, taking advantages of all the services they offer (less with covid). When the time comes after daughter an sil have expanded their house i will probably move in with them. Thats bern the plan for a long time for all of us and I expect it to continue.

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    1. Downsizing is always the first and most important step any of us can take. Also, insuring the space is safe, meaning no throw rugs, or cords that can trip someone is important.

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  6. Living alone is not all that great for me now that I'm in my '70s and am starting to have a few health issues that could kill me and leave nothing for my dog to eat but my arm before my body would be discovered. Moving to an independent apartment on a continuum care campus may not be for everyone, but without children to keep track of me as I age, it's a good compromise. I'll be trading up a little privacy for security of knowing help is so close by. Covid-19 has already effected my timeline and I swear the housing market next year when I'll need to list.

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    1. Those who are single now, or who lose a spouse or partner, face a series of questions. Health care, basic chores and maintenance, and transportation come to mind. As you note, if you are alone, who is available to keep in touch and do safety checks on a very regular basis?

      Giving up some privacy and control in exchange for personal safety and relatives' piece of mind may be worth it.

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    2. There are services who will call or text you once a day or more and if you don’t respond within a certain length of time, they will call the police to do wellness check. And there’s the "help I have fallen" thing or similar.

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    3. Our local sheriffs office has that service. You can sign up and there is a daily check in. If you don't respond and deputy comes to the house. It is done as a public service as far as I can tell. I do have to say we have an AMAZING sheriff and given that there are things he does that other places don't do.

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  7. I am not concerned about the potential higher rate of infectious diseases in assisted or nursing home settings. If I end up in either the end will be welcome. I definitely support pulling your own plug but realize it will happen for only a very few. I have watched this scene play out too many times. By the time you reach the point of no return you will no longer have the cognitive or physical capability to pull it off. I told me father he would wake up one day in a nursing home with zero choice in the matter. He got lucky. The 3 day stay in the hospital that was going to put him there was his last stop. The only way to make personal choice work is to be willing to give up a few potential good years. You have to pull the plug when you still have your stuff together. It is the rare individual capable of making that decision.

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    1. Humans are pretty much hard-wired to not what this life to end. You are right: it would be the pretty single-minded person who would make that decision while still in charge of his or her faculties.

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  8. As many have already expressed, I also want to remain independent for as long as possible….I guess the dream is that I would pass away in my sleep following an evening of celebration in honor of my completing a 100 kilometer bike race on my 100th birthday. Well, that ain’t gonna happen, but that’s the dream anyway.

    Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, I was very seriously looking at the possibility of selling my long-time residence in Texas and moving to a retirement community in Florida….yes, and high on my list was “That Place” (The Villages). I found the idea of moving to an independent living community that had been specifically built for my demographic with programs in place to encourage socialization and outdoor activities to be very appealing. This type of living arrangement would be a bridge from young-old-age to old-old-age, allowing for maximum independence and an active lifestyle. Then as I saw the need for assistance drawing closer, I would transition to a Life Care Community in that general area.

    Clearly the current virus situation has put a hold on that plan. The requirements for lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing have made socialization and a traditional active lifestyle (tennis, golf, dancing, clubs) much less attractive. My hope is that we are not in a permanent lifestyle change, but just in an 18-24 month “timeout” before being able to return to something close to the old “normal”.

    So, for now, I am keeping my future plans in timeout, while hoping that the combination of vaccines, treatment protocols, drug cures and/or drug treatments will impact how we view this disease in the future. If your thought process is: “If I go out, I’ll probably get sick. And, if I get sick, I’m going to die”, then chances are you will never get back to “normal”. But if your thought process is: “If I go out, I probably won’t get sick. But, if I do get sick, I’m going to take some pills, stay in bed for 3 days, and then I’m well”, then you will probably get very close to the old “normal”. No one has 20/20 foresight, but my guess is that in another 12-18 months we will be able to see whether the old “normal” is going to be in our future or not.

    But I still haven’t given up on the idea of driving my golf cart to the town square several nights each week to drink wine with my neighbors and line dance to the sounds of a live band.

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    1. I do believe we will be back to some form of normal within the next year or so. That "normal" may not look like it used to, but it will be close enough that all the fun and activities you mention will be possible again.

      BTW, a friend of mine moved to The Villages from Honolulu about fifteen years ago. The last time we visited him (admittedly a while ago) he and his wife liked the setup. In fact, he was helping to run the radio station.

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  9. Another one fully in the "live free or die" camp! We have a house with no neighbors that is being attacked by woodpeckers and has a very hilly, hard-to-mow yard. We could stay here and use a reverse mortgage to take away the bug-filled shake siding, or we could sell for a smaller place with a flatter yard.
    If we do move there won't be neighbors. I've had 30+ years of freedom from them and not about to give that up.
    Feel free to disagree. Most people do fine living near others.
    Neighbors may sometimes invite you to Tupperware parties, but they also kill your pets, spy on your kids, steal your tools, and make trouble over your yard's appearance and whether you took your garbage cans in early enough.
    Now I don't hate all people, but I do a lot better not living near them because I am weird and attract these awful behaviors. In apartments, children dribbled basketballs on my windows and carved their initials in my car's paint.
    Imagine me in a nursing home, with no privacy and fellow residents stealing my stuff while I sleep. Not going to work, folks.
    I'd rather take my chances with woodpeckers. I don't think they spread COVID-19. As far as dying is concerned, there's the story of the old rancher who was asked if he would rather die with his boots on. His reply: "Die the way you have to die."
    Cheers!

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    1. There is something to be said for knowing your own mind and what makes you happy. You are certainly in that category.

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  10. While we would all like to live independently until the last day, I've seen enough dying in the elderly to know it's unlikely. We sold our high maintenance home and yard this year and moved to a site condo where we are living on one floor. When the time comes, DH thinks he will figure out how to exit, but honestly, as Fred said in his comment, it's a rare person who has the mental/physical wherewithal to pull that off. I'm watching my 88 yo mom try to manage care for her 88 yo husband and reach the point of exhaustion. She was told my her doctor that she cannot take care of him at home anymore, they have some help coming in, but his attitude and reaction is also driving that boat. He wants to go to the veterans' home, they have Covid restrictions and a waiting list, his health continues to decline, his daughters are burning out now as well, etc.etc. It's a conundrum and we can set up a plan, but in the end sometimes life acts upon us. Best to be prepared to give up your independence or have an exit plan with someone to assist, I guess.

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    1. I should also add that unless you are independently wealthy, having in house full time care is prohibitively expensive and hard to come by. There are just too many horror stories of caretakers scamming the elderly, stealing their drugs, etc., for my taste.

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    2. Thanks for the reality check about in home, full time care.

      I am perfectly content to move to the community my parents lived (and died) in when the time is right. I don't want to have Betty stressed taking care of me, nor do I want my daughters to be burdened.

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    3. This is such a mature, kind way to think, Bob. I am livid some days watching this man (who is admittedly not my father, but I always thought he was an OK guy) expect my mom to wait on him hand and foot. Thank God her doctor stepped in and said NO. (He actually told her they would BOTH end up in a nursing home or worse. That seemed to help her become more assertive about getting help. She is a retired nurse and has seen how this goes.)

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  11. Many interesting comments here to take my mind off all the stuff going on right now. I promised my wife 20 years ago that she will die in our current home. That is proving to be more difficult as the years progress. The 2.5 acre spread and one-hundred year old house is just getting to demanding, but I am going to do my best to keep that promise.

    A major concern now is that since I am seven years younger than her, I will likely die alone as we don't have any children to help. Some suggestions here about cohabiting sound like interesting possibility. CCRCs just don't have the appeal they once had, so I need to consider other ways.

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    1. I am sure your wife appreciates your commitment to stay in your home. However, b.Besides being younger and maybe passing after your wife, your well-publicized deafness also makes your situation more complicated. Being alone, in a rural setting, deaf, without family, could be a daunting challenge.

      Cohousing is becoming much more available across the country. A good place to check on this as an option is cohousing.org.

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    2. Thanks for the reference Bob. I guess I am more ignorant on this topic than I thought. I thought cohousing was sharing a residence with someone else. ie.. a roommate. I think that is pretty common to but I don't know the name for that or even how to begin that process.

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  12. I think co-housing is a good option for a lot of people. As for the future of housing prices and rents? I'm no expert, but if I had to bet I'd bet they'll still be going up a year from now and for several more years after that. Don't know what the next step for us is. But we have stairs. We have a small yard. If they get to be too much, we'll probably go to a condo or townhouse. Senior living? Not our style. But never say never.

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    1. One of the most important things we did to prepare ourselves was to move to a single level house five years ago. Both of us can handle stairs at this point, but the future trend was obvious: our knees were not going to be happy. Stairs can be dangerous as both mobility and balance issues arise.

      As a minor aside, before she died our dog would not have been able to navigate the 14 stairs in our previous home, meaning carrying her up and down multiple times a day.

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    2. Bob -- My wife tells me the more stairs I climb the longer I'll live. Not sure I believe her, but under the circumstances I gotta go with her advice and not yours. Oh, you bring back bad memories. I remember when our dog could no longer make the steps and for days he sat at the bottom whining and giving us forlorn looks. But he was 75 pounds. no way we could lift him up and down. Eventually he got used to it. But I can still hear his cries!

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  13. I can see an increase in multigenerational living for a couple of reasons the main one being that it can save everyone a lot of money over time. Home care costs, daycare costs etc. I think many people will start living like the "Waltons" again they were able to work together and get through a depression

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    1. I am a fan of multi-generational housing. Besides the obvious joy of living with your loved ones, I believe such households are tremendous teaching tools for youngsters. They are loving demonstrations of caring for others and being attuned to more than just yourself.

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    2. Bob my wife is Italian and this is how many people in that country live. They have a better quality of lifestyle because of it and you can just feel the love.

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  14. We are building a single level house in a new neighborhood. We don't want to afford to build/buy in an area that our children live in- so we are going "home" to the West. I planned a very large extra closet- clothes now /robot later. House is for short/ wheelchair bound people- my reach is gone since I shattered my elbow :) Herb gardens and doggie doors will all be in soon enough. We hope/plan on our next car to be electric and self driving. Small grocery nearby. Works.Neither of our parents had issues with Alzheimer's or such- so that is a blessing.
    We will be adding on to our daughter's house a grandparent pod (with robot accessibility) in the next ten years--unless they move overseas (then we will just get an apartment near them). 600 sq feet in the lawn out back will work for us in our 90s.
    My sister lives in co housing. She likes it for the most part- but know that it can be pretty intrusive if you are an independent person. It is a give and take. Being single without children, she will depend on these people to be her "family" as she gets elderly.
    My mom is quite happy with her CCC place and we are glad she is. Just no real interest from either of us. I hate to "dress" for dinner.

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    1. Thank you, Janette. You have given real life examples of a few of our choices. I should have included the "granny pod" or often-called "mother-in-law add-on to an adult child's home as an option. If affordable, that is one way to create a multi-generational household.

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  15. We remodeled our basement this summer and now have a very nice apartment with no stairs and one of our kids living upstairs with his family. We still split our time between Tucson and Seattle. For now.

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  16. I'll be the storm cloud. I am a nurse and have seen even the best thought out plans go out the window with a fall, sudden illness, or increase in dementia. The crisis happens and the hospital demands that the patient or family make life changing decisions in hours if not days at the bedside (discharge planning). Where will the person live, is there a waiting list to get in, what happens after rehab, can family and/or friends change their lives to accommodate this sudden new reality. Your right to independence or freedom of choice can be gone in a moment.

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    1. Not a very happy response from Happy but of course that is the reality, so I am glad for the words. I think most of us seniors go willfully ignorant about what will likely happen in a heartbeat some time in our future. Since I am a planner by nature maybe I should start figuring out the answers to these things ahead of time.

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    2. This is so true. And I've seen it play out exactly as Happy says on more than one occasion in my (large) extended family.

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    3. What Happy points out is important. I think most of us believe that as we age we'll be pretty much the same as we are now, a few more aches and pains perhaps but about the same. We exercise, eat right, see the doctor regularly, do everything we should. Plus there's that guy we read about in the newspaper that ran a marathon on his 90th birthday.

      It rarely goes that way and as I saw with my parents you are fine living independently until you're not and NOT seems to happen all at once. It's what has happened to both of my parents and then locating a suitable residence becomes a rushed search for a decent place with an opening. My mother didn't even have the chance to see her residence beforehand as we moved her from her in-patient rehab directly to the retirement residence on discharge.

      The other thing is that though my mother thought she was living independently in her own condo she wasn't really, my sister that lived nearby had to see her almost daily for one reason or another. As my sister was looking at her own retirement plans she could see that there was no way she'd be able to travel or be away for even short periods due to the on-going needs of our mother. My mother's "independence" was costing my sister the early and best years of her retirement.

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  17. The suddenness of change coupled with me probably being alone, if I live long enough, is problematic. I have taken care of my affairs, have a lawyer as my executor, a big plastic bin with all my info in it that will be sitting out and I’ll eventually the "help I can’t get up" thing and a daily check in program.
    The problem is I wish I was in one of those 6 states with assisted dying. I wish I had a way out that was foolproof. It was better long ago when people were able just to let nature take its course quickly. It is a conundrum.
    My Dad had heart problems and went to the hospital for shortness of breath and died that night. But my Mother wasn’t so lucky, although she did avoid a nursing home. Had ovarian cancer return and a chemo treatment broke through her intestine and she got sepsis. Lasted 6 weeks in ICU. But still not years in a nursing home.
    It’s just an outcome we can’t guess at or control.

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    1. After my death one of my first conversations with God or the Supreme Being in charge of design, will be why we can't just drop dead over a grilled cheese sandwich instead of the too-often slow, painful decline of a machine wearing out.

      As all these comments should make clear, our only recourse is setting up an emergency backup system or person, not waiting too long, and keeping our fingers crossed that nature doesn't laugh while we plan.

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    2. We have decided that we choose not to have extra care. If one of us gets cancer at this age, there will be no chemo. If there is a machine that could keep us alive- from pacemaker to heart lung- we choose not to have it. That was a difficult conversation we had with our children. We promised to be in as good a shape as possible, but we are not interested in living with chemicals or machines. Family history says that we will not outlive our minds- and we are grateful for that.
      When we were younger we talked about DNR- but know that is rarely obeyed unless the family backs it up. So now, the kids know. We agree that we have to die of something.

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    3. We also have DNR directives that we have told our kids about. Staying alive with a feeding tube down your throat or a ventilator to keep you breathing is no life. Like you, I want no part of that.

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  18. Here in Canada, depending on province of residence, 60-80 percent of the COVID deaths have been in long term care facilities. Moreover, in many places, no visitors were allowed for months, and once visitors were again permitted, it was with rigid restrictions (for the safety of the care home residents). As a result, many people sickened with COVID have died without their loved ones ever being able to see them or say goodbye. It has made me think twice about our future living plans.

    Jude

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    1. Yes, that is a major consideration. My problem is I don't really know of a good alternative that doesn't put too much responsibility and daily care on our daughters.

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  19. The pandemic may have accelerated my timeline for moving to a condominium-style retirement community. I live alone in the woods at the end of a rural dirt road, and the pandemic has stripped away many of the regular forms of connection that I had built into my life. More importantly, though, it has made the maintenance of my house much more difficult. We already had a shortage of people in the trades here, so that it was difficult to get someone to even return a phone call. The pandemic has made that problem much worse, and if you do find someone who will come out, they almost never wear face masks. I've felt for a number of years that I would sell my house and move when the stress of maintaining the house became greater than the pleasure I get from living in it. All of a sudden, those stresses have become much greater. I've simply given up on a number of major maintenance tasks for this year in hopes that I will be able to hire people to take care of the deferred maintenance next year.

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