Starting the conversation with your parents about where they will live as they get older is hard. As a member of the Baby Boom generation, I can empathize. We weigh our options: What do our parents need? What’s best for all of us? These are challenging questions to answer.
I advise my design clients to think in terms of a 20-year horizon — a home that will allow you to live authentically until you choose to move. As Mom struggled with living alone at age 91, I came to terms with how to discuss aging in place transition options with parents.
Mom insisted on staying at home after my father was gone. So, I followed the Aging in Place guidelines from the National Association of Home Builders to make her Cape Cod home safe.
After a few good years, my sister Cindy and I started pointing out things of which Mom wasn’t aware. For example, Cindy had been staying with Mom for three days. She went to the grocery store and back, and Mom thought she was just arriving. We could have played along, but we told her the truth. “We’re with you, but it is time for a change,” we said.
We reached out to people around her so that they became our eyes and ears. Mom’s friends from the Huntington Garden Club invited her to a luncheon honoring all the founding members. That evening, she felt connected.
As those opportunities slowly dwindled, her closest friend was her cat. She’d forget that Cousin Kenny came on Sundays to take her to church. Incidents like that showed she was losing the capacity to live alone. We employed caregivers to help with chores and meals.
Yet there’s always a conflict. “No, I want to be independent,” Mom said. “I love my home.”
Then she had a couple of falls. The hard reality hit us — we needed to do something fast. She and Dad had shared that home for 60 years, however, and coming to grips with leaving was difficult.
We focused on repairs to remove barriers to selling the house because at some point soon, we would need that money for assisted living. Through my networking group, I found a senior investment adviser and an elder care lawyer.
Our senior move manager helped us downsize from a whole house to a single room with a shared bathroom at an assisted living facility’s new memory care wing.
For her new room, I drew three floor plans to help her choose to let go of her four-poster bed to make room for her hutch, which would hold beloved belongings. While Cindy took Mom out to breakfast, we set it up in three hours … like magic. Once she was moved, we gradually gifted, donated and sold anything of value and discarded the rest. Her home went to a young couple who loved her knotty pine kitchen.
I wonder, would moving Mom sooner have enriched her life? I’ll never know for sure. She had no idea that Dottie, her suitemate, was the same person from day to day. She could only engage in conversation about what was right in front of her. The other residents looked out for her, for which I’m forever grateful.
When she passed away a year later, it still hit us hard. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deal with all the crises simultaneously. I’m thankful that my sister and I had a well-thought-out plan.
With a master plan to stay at home safely, several years of assisted living expenses could be spent instead on home improvements that will build equity and make selling it easier.
Even as I make accessibility changes on my own home, I remember that aging in place is a great strategy, but often has an expiration date. There’s a point at which it may no longer be practical. For more info, visit colinhealydesign.com.
Colin Healy is a Stratford-based designer and a certified aging in place specialist.