August 25, 2022

Aging and How We Live: Part Two


Maybe it is because I turned 73 three months ago. Perhaps it is because various aches and pains have become more of a part of my daily life over the last six months. Possibly it is because we are about to start visiting local retirement communities. 

Whatever the cause, I have been thinking more about aging and how it is, and will, affect my future. I am not alone in this journey toward important decisions, and trying to do everything within my control to make things smoother. It occurred to me that a few posts dealing with some of the choices I must make can be helpful to you, too. 

So, here is the second in that series, after Part One from several weeks ago. As always, your opinions, thoughts, and questions will be significant in my decision-making and allow this virtual community of retirees to share our experiences, fears, and options.

Not surprisingly, studies show that nearly 90% of us want to age in place for as long as possible. As the comments from the previous post made clear, staying at home comes with some costs and the possibility of putting you or your family in a difficult position. So, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Let's assume that you have weighed the costs, benefits, and risks of staying put and have decided this is what you want to do for now. What can any of us do to make our current home safer and more convenient? What planning steps do we need to budget for to be able to stay home? Some of these topics were raised in the comment section of the previous post, but I wanted to have all considerations in one post for your convenience.

Unless you have already made modifications to your home, condo, apartment or bought a place with aging in place already in mind, most need changes to make the space safe and accessible. Here are some of the important things I have been considering:

  1. Seven years ago we moved to a one-story home. Most experts say this should be at the top of your list. As we age, our knees, hips, and balance can make climbing stairs difficult and dangerous. Stair lifts are an option, but impractical for many. There should be very few stairs, even into a garage or living room if possible. The front door steps can be replaced (or augmented) with a ramp. If you must have stairs, be sure there are rails on both sides, that the treads are solid, and that there is adequate lighting.
  2. Kitchen appliances and cabinets that are easy to reach, without bending over or standing on a step stool. Betty is too short to reach the stuff in our top cabinets. My job is to reach them for her. I have seen homes with all cabinets and countertops lower than standard to accommodate wheelchairs. With six years or so left in this home that would not make economic sense for us. But, if you are in a forever home, it is an option.
  3. Either a low-maintenance dwelling or arrangements for others to do most of the work of maintaining your house, inside and out. We use a lawn service and a twice-a-month cleaning company. It keeps us from working in 105-degree heat or doing lots of bending and scrubbing on already weakened knees. 
  4. Raised toilet seats and showers or tubs that don't require much stepping up or down. We added a grab bar in the bathroom with a tub. A.bath bench may be next to the master shower. One of the toilets in our home is higher; it is noticeably easier to use.
  5. Bathroom countertops that are the right height when sitting on a stool. Mirrors lowered and lighting increased. Automatic pill dispensers. Though not these steps are viable for us (see point #2), we have changed the light fixtures in both baths, adding more light.
  6. Elimination of throw rugs or other tripping hazards, like wires or cables, clutter, and knick-knacks. Cut back on the amount of furniture in each room that must be navigated around to move easily, either when walking, in a wheelchair, or with a walker or cane. I admit we still have a throw rub at both the front and rear doors. They may be gone by the time you read this.
  7. More lighting throughout the home. As our sight dims extra lighting will be necessary for safe movement and tasks. This is one area we need to make a priority. The living room and master bedroom are darker than they should be. Again, this post is forcing my hand.
  8. Doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, flooring that is easy to navigate (often that means eliminating carpeting), and flush thresholds to help eliminate tripping. A changeover to door levers instead of door knobs is something we did when we moved into this home.
  9. Emergency lighting (at least several working flashlights nearby) if the power fails and medical/security monitoring in case of falls or threats of criminal activity. Cell phones or wireless phones close by. We have four fire extinguishers stationed around our home and three different locations for flashlights. 
  10. The closeness of family or friends to be able to check on your welfare on a regular basis. Obviously, this isn't always viable. We are lucky: our family members live between five and 15 minutes away.
  11. Adequate medical facilities that are close enough for both regular and emergency treatment. Arrangements can be made with home health organizations to provide nursing or physical care if needed. Emergency phone numbers are posted in several locations of the home. In these areas, we are in good shape.
  12. Low vision equipment and tools if needed. Things like talking clocks, extra-loud ringers or doorbells, and reading magnifiers may be necessary. Betty and I are learning the basics of sign language in case one or both of us need to communicate that way.

Staying in your home as you age will take some effort and money. Your goal is to remain surrounded by familiar things and settings as long as you can do so safely. 

This list is not exhaustive but should give you a good start in deciding if you can make your house into your age-in-place home.

    19 comments:

    1. We just put our name on a waiting list in a retirement community back east near our family. After looking at many homes on Zillow, they all seemed to have stairs. It feels so weird to have so many limitations now when looking at housing. Things that never mattered when we were younger and house hunting. Sigh.....Roberta

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      1. You are so right. In fact, stairs were a good thing if the kids' bedrooms were upstairs and yours was down!

        The community we are likely to choose has at least a two year waiting list.

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    2. That is a pretty extensive list if you ask me, Bob. 🥴 I have been in my retirement community for a little over a year now, but even they don't meet some of the things on your list. Not having a living spouse adds several more items to your list. Since you and I are both serious list makers, part of your list should include "Is the solution good for when one of you are no longer around?" That was a biggie for my decision to move after my wife's death. Maybe I am a couple of years early here at my retirement community, but at least I won't have to make that decision under some extreme circumstances later.

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      1. Yes, it is not likely that all the items on this list can be taken care of in one place. But, it does illustrate the scope of the changes that confront us as we age.

        I would expect a retirement community to satisfy many of the safety items, like throw rugs, better lighting, and special equipment for disabilities, includjng both hearing and visual restrictions.

        Regardless of our final choices, the ultimate responsjbility for our safety is ours.

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    3. I heard someone say once (maybe here on Bob's blog) that the only thing worse than moving to a retirement community 5 years too early is moving there 5 minutes too late. The point is you are okay at home on your own until you're not which seems to happen bit by bit, then suddenly, all at once. That's what happened with my parents and bad falls at home that sent them to the hospital was the "all at once" point for each of them. Certainly the list that Bob has above is a good one and if you do intend to age in place it's worth the money to get these things done sooner rather than later.

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      1. I think the 5 minute line was included in a comment in the first aging in place post. She was exactly right, as are you: you are OK until you are not, and there often isn't much warning.

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    4. So far, so good. We're in a no-stairs apartment with family living upstairs. Today we had the landscaping changed from lots of plants (weeds) to wood chips and native plants. Will keep the yardwork simpler for whoever does it.

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      1. Based on the serious drought in our part of the country I would guess our front and backyard of grass will become rock and native plants at some point.

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    5. We didn't think much about toilet seat heights until we remodeled our previous bathroom. They seemed odd at first, but now when I'm in public and run into a low one, I really feel it in my knees. And just this week, DH decided it's time to add grab bars in our shower. I have been hesitant to install them, because they're kinda ugly to me. But it's time and I'll just have to choose function over form. But not until I search for one that matches my towel bars. LOL.

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      1. I positioned our tub/shower grab bar just underneath the hook where the towel I use after a shower is hung. Except for the brief time when I am using it, the towel covers the grab bar...design issue solved!

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    6. My retirement community apartment had all those things except for a high toilet. We can either get a raised seat or other alternative or install.a higher one ourselves which I might do down the line as needed. I woukd say to hope that once she gets the grab bars she'll love them I have a long one along the back wall one at the end of the shower and one actually above my toilet seat. About six months ago my daughter walked in with a shower transfer bench (big with two legs out the tub and two in). I pressed but sheathed me to try it and knowing the alternative living alone was probably a bracelet. I did. And I love it.

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      1. I had forgotten about the higher seat option for a toilet. That is certainly easier and cheaper than replacing the toilet. Home Depot, here I come.

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    7. My wife has arthritis and other issues that are beginning to affect her mobility in her 50's. One thing we need to do, and not on your list, is to buy a bed that is lower in height. We have a pretty high bed that already requires her to use a step stool to get into. We are planning on getting a lower platform bed to make it easier.

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      1. Good point! Our bed is a bit high for Betty. She has to perform a mini-leap to get in. Part of that is arthritis and part is that she is barely 5 feet tall.

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    8. I wonder how much the desire to age in place is affected by marital status and income. Many of the married women I know say that they intend to stay in their homes, but my single women friends are more likely to find the maintenance requirements for a single family home increasingly oppressive and to find aging in place increasingly isolating as their mobility declines. As one of my friends put it, "My home could become my prison." The single women (myself included) who can afford to move into nice independent living retirement communities often find this a preferable alternative to aging in place. One friend who made the move a year ago has been positively gleeful about the new freedom she feels.

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      1. That is an excellent point. An older partner probably can't do much of what is required to maintain a home. But, two sources of income do make the cost more bearable.

        The factors of mobility and companionship could certainly make a retirement community more attractive than aging alone. Thanks, Jean.

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      2. Bob, I think the benefit of having a partner in home maintenance is not so much about having someone to do the work, but about having someone to share the responsibility. Especially when an unanticipated problem arises, being on your own to figure out what needs to be done and then find someone to do the work can be very stressful. In the area where I live, there is such a shortage of people in the trades that it can take many weeks just to get someone to return a phone call. (Forget about the advice to get three estimates!)

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      3. Sharing decisions and the burden...excellent point, Jean.

        Finding good workmen ( or women) is like winning the lottery. They are to be treasured.

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