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Where to live as we age?

One of the most stressful decisions as you age is whether to stay in your current home or consider other alternatives. According to a survey by AARP, 90 percent of adults age 65 and older want to remain in their current residence as long as possible.  The desire to “age in place” is a natural preference—and why not?  Home is where the heart is.  Our homes are comfortable, part of our identity, and seem like the easiest option.

But where to live as we age is a complicated issue with no “one-size-fits-all” solution.  Every individual is different because of variables such as health, family support (or lack thereof), financial resources, and personal preferences. 

As you plan for your parents’ or your own future, think of aging in terms of phases.  “Home” may not be just one decision or one location.  What is appropriate for the next five years may be different than what  is best ten years from now.  The key is to plan for a variety of options and not lock yourself into just one.

The following stories are of people who have made transitions.  (Names have been changed.)  We hope their experiences trigger discussion about what is in your future.

“Joy of Downsizing”

Dan and Judy felt obligated to maintain their ranch-style home with a pool and big yard “in case the kids come over.”  But visits from their adult son and daughter became less frequent and Dan was becoming less mobile.  Judy finally admitted they needed a smaller place.  Letting go of decades of “stuff” was painful but liberating because their home had become a “giant storage unit” for themselves and their kids. 

After buying a newer and much smaller home close to their daughter, Dan and Judy had it remodeled to be handicap accessible prior to moving in.  “Our friends thought we were crazy when we widened the doorways and ripped out good carpet,” laughed Judy.   “But it gave me peace of mind to create a place where we hope to be able to live for a long time.”

“Where’s the Beef?”

George never expected that his wife would die first.  She was younger, healthier, the dispenser of their prescriptions, and the one who got him out of the house.  Now everything about his life was upside down.  Except for Sunday church services and a weekly trip to the grocer, George’s world started shrinking very quickly, as did his weight.  Thank goodness his pastor intervened and fellow church members helped him find an assisted living facility near his current neighborhood.  He would have regular meals, medications given as prescribed, and a nurse on staff to check him regularly.

We worried how George would deal with this major transition—no relatives, few friends, and unfamiliar surroundings.  Would he go and eat meals in a large dining room with residents he barely knew? 

Turns out it was just what he needed.  “I sit with three other people,” he said, beaming.  “There’s cloth napkins and a fancy table and they even come and take my order.  I just say, ‘where’s the beef’?   It sure beats opening a can of soup and sitting alone every day!”

Finding Balance

Ted and Ann thought they were ahead of the game when they sold their five-acre spread and moved into a condo as Ann began showing signs of early dementia.  But the new adventure began to wane about six months in.  Ann was restless and wanted to be outside.  Maybe this change had been a little too drastic.  Though they hated to have to sell and buy and move again, it was much easier the second time around because no sorting was necessary. 

The right fit proved to be a patio home they could easily “lock and leave” in an adult themed community with trails and lots of green space that they don’t have to maintain.  Currently they are focused on traveling and visiting extended family.  As Ann’s dementia worsens, they plan to hire additional help as needed to come into their home.

Making do with resources available

Betty, a former school teacher, has a modest pension and social security, but not much savings. She has a small home and loves her independence, but now that she is using a walker, she worries whether anyone would know if she suffered a fall. 

Because Betty has a lot of equity in her home, she took out a loan for modifications that made her home safer and easier to navigate.  This included pouring concrete ramps and railings for all outside doors and a bathroom remodel to install a “walk-in shower.”  She now wears a monitoring bracelet in case she falls or needs immediate assistance. This is linked to emergency services as well as to her son who lives across town.

If Betty needs greater care and assistance in the future, she and her son have agreed that she would sell her home and move into an assisted living facility near him (which may be less expensive than full-time care at home).  Should Betty deplete all her assets, she may qualify for the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS). 

One of the biggest obstacles in planning for future housing needs is denial.  Denial that we are slowing down, denial that we may need a little extra help, denial that maybe our circumstances should change.  Most of us like to think we are “senior athletes” who will peacefully die in our sleep after running a marathon.  But for the rest of the ninety-eight percent, discussing and planning for possible options in advance is a very good thing!

Part of our role as advisors is to help you think about what the future may bring.  What will you be able to afford?  Will you have enough money if you live a century?  Feel free to call us anytime to discuss these and any issues that are on your mind. 

Where to live as we age?

by Marcus F. Johnson, CFPⓇ time to read: 4 min