My mother clearly voiced her preference to live at home and not have to move to a facility in her golden years. Fortunately, with Mom’s sound planning and the help of my siblings, we honored her wishes to live independently for the past decade. Perhaps your own parents, like most others, have also expressed their desire to live at home. Now you are scratching your head and wondering if that is a possibility.
As I watch Mom grow older, I admire her strength and resilience. She has suffered the profound loss of her husband of 60 years, broken hips, joint replacements, and the traumatic loss of a grandchild. It wasn’t until she was 75 that she had ever lived by herself. It was common in Mom’s generation to leave your family home, marry, and move in with your new spouse. Consequently, living independently can present hurdles to older folks with little prior experience.
Are you pondering if your parent’s wish to remain home is realistic? If so, what are some practical concerns? Home ownership, affordability, and senior-friendly accommodations are important considerations. Geographic proximity to family along with physical, cognitive, and emotional health conducive to independent living are fundamental matters to weigh as well.
First, let’s consider actual home ownership status. Does your parent own their home outright or have a mortgage? Retired parents on a fixed income may find the mortgage, along with other home expenses, is no longer within their budget. Furthermore, if one parent is deceased, can the other continue to manage the expenses of owning that home? Likewise, if your older parent rents their residence, are they able to afford the required monthly expenditures?
Assess whether the floorplan of your parent’s home is conducive to safely and comfortably getting around. Stairs are always a huge issue for older folks. They can be addressed by installing a ramp for outside entry and a stair lift or elevator indoors. Perhaps an elderly parent can live on the ground floor to avoid using the stairs all together. Maneuvering into bathrooms and bedrooms through narrow doorways is challenging for seniors using walkers. Bathtub-shower combos are especially difficult and unsafe for older persons to negotiate. Adaptive safety equipment such as grab rails, safety poles, and raised toilet seats should be installed. Home modifications can further adapt tubs, showers, commodes, and even narrow doorways to accommodate your senior parent’s safety needs.
Long distance families struggle with supporting parents’ wishes to age in place. Family members living close by to elderly parents undoubtedly enable more successful aging in place. Family caregivers must be able to arrange and supervise the hiring of in-home care as needed in addition to being available for back-up help. Family can help parents manage home maintenance including repairs and yardwork. Family members can also help handle finances such as bill paying and budgeting for an elderly parent.
As our parents age many will often show signs of declining mentally, some with cognitive impairment. The degree of decline varies and needs careful monitoring to decide if an elderly parent is a good candidate for living independently. For example, while some forgetfulness is expected when growing older, increasing dementia or early Alzheimer’s disease may eliminate the option to live alone.
Depression and anxiety can also restrict your elderly parent’s ability to successfully age in place. Some seniors are fearful at night when alone, while others suffer depression that can make activities of daily living overwhelming. Consideration of an elderly parent’s emotional state is vital to determining their ability to age in place.
Physical impairments are another huge concern relevant to your parent’s productive aging in place. It is common for seniors to have some mobility, endurance, and balance issues in addition to joint and muscle pains as they age. However, some elderly suffer extensive pains and severe mobility restrictions that make aging in place very difficult. Contemplate whether the extent of your senior’s physical limitations will enable comfortable aging in place at home.
Mom has always expected life to be difficult and throw some curve balls, similar to many of her generation. She does not shy away from challenges that life delivers. She attends regular senior exercise classes to help offset her decreased mobility and impaired balance. She owns and lives in a one level apartment with a walk-in shower and bathroom safety modifications. Her adjustable bed and bedrail allow comfortable sleep and safe transfers. Is it possible to find ways to make your parent’s accommodations safe and comfortable as well?
My sister lives next-door and I live a few miles away, allowing us to share in responsibilities. I escort her to doctor appointments, assist with meal prep, and help her manage financial obligations while my sister is a few steps away for routine supervision. Mom is sometimes forgetful although, for the most part, she thinks clearly and makes good decisions. With ongoing perseverance, she confronts the hardships of getting older the best she is able.
Mom actively participates in family gatherings and enjoys spending time with her many grandchildren. Moreover, my grateful mother never hesitates to acknowledge that aging in place makes her life happy, independent, and productive.
Be creative and resourceful to find ways to support your older parent’s desire to age in place. Your reward will likely be a very grateful and content parent, along with setting the standard for your own future wishes to age in place.
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