“There’s a window, and once it closes, it closes forever.”
This powerful sentence was the title of an article in the Boston Globe last week resulting from a talk given by Len Fishman, director of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Gerontology Institute. He was referring to “the right time” for older adults to leave their home and relocate into a supported-living situation. He was boldly addressing the issue of “aging in place.”
Not everyone has the luxury of even thinking about a housing relocation in the later stages of life. Not everyone wants to do that — or can do that financially. Assisted living can be expensive.
Every study out there, and AARP has done some of the best, suggest most of us want to remain in our own homes until the end of our days. But those are often the homes without any grab bars in the bathroom — except maybe that suction-cup device you bought years ago that keeps falling off your tiled tub wall. Older adults often have homes with multiple steps to get inside or out of the house. And more steps to get to an upstairs bedroom.
These homes may not have shower chairs with arms or railed toilet risers to accommodate sciatica and arthritic knees. Most senior’s homes are without an emergency cord to pull if you slip in the tub or tumble off the toilet. By the way, bathrooms are where 80 percent of falls occur. And when you fall there, the surfaces are brutal, and hip or head injuries are more likely.
The “aging-in-place dilemma” and its accompanying decisions are center stage for us as we age. In our home, my husband and I spent a lot of time identifying and designing the adaptations and accommodations that make it more likely we can age in place and less likely we will trip, fall, fracture and be hospitalized. We — ideally — want this to be our forever home. We used information found at www.lifelonghousing.org as a template for ensuring that.
But the Boston Globe’s reference to the decision-making window — that “once closed, is closed forever” — got our attention. My husband’s recent mobility challenges made us stop and pay attention in a new way. It was reminders like this: “Make the move too soon and lose an important part of yourself … wait too long — until your physical or cognitive state has greatly deteriorated — and any place that won’t be depressing won’t take you.”
Some people use the “walk-in” test as a barometer. Supported-living facilities are more likely to accept you, (yes, it is an acceptance process not unlike applying for college) if you are mobile.
It’s all about “informed choice,” and sometimes we need experts to pave the way for the right decision. The geriatric care professionals that are part of the Aging Life Care Association (www.aginglifecare.org) can help. I think they “do windows” well.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.