Should I go or should I stay?

Maybe you’ve already made a decision on where you're going to live as you age, and you’re good with it. Maybe a friend or relative is wrestling with these issues and you want to be helpful. It’s the ever-evolving “should I go or should I stay?” dilemma.

One aging expert puts it this way, “Home provides an emotional anchor, daily comfort and shelter, memories and nearness to connection and community.” And this same expert adds another important financial consideration. As we age, the equity in our home is often 45 percent to 75 percent of our household net worth. This decision is a big deal.

Let’s assume you’re middle- or upper-income older adult and you’re considering another living situation. Let’s assume your fixed income is adequate and you’re in reasonably good health. Let’s expect you have saved or invested money. But now you have come to terms with the reality that you will likely live a whole lot longer than you originally anticipated, but not without medical and situational challenges. “Adequate” is going to have to stretch. And there is this irksomely volatile political climate — anything could happen.

Or perhaps there’s this: You always hoped to leave something substantial to your children. Or make a legacy contribution to your church. Perhaps you wanted to provide some kind of financial support to lower-income elders who are not making these kinds of decisions, but have even more difficult ones.

But right now, this is about you. It’s about staying in your home or finding another living arrangement, which includes some major considerations. Transportation, for example. Can you easily get to all of your doctor appointments? Household management and maintenance is another big factor. Do you really want to keep paying property taxes and tending a lawn?

So you lay out your options. Maybe you’re considering moving to a large bedroom in your daughter’s home in another state. Maybe you’re contemplating a retirement community or an assisted-living apartment? Maybe you think, "If I get the perfectly right 'age peer' to live with me and share costs, I could stay in my home and it have it be a workable situation for both of us."

When you’re considering all this, think carefully about accessibility and bathroom and kitchen safety: If I were in a wheelchair, would it fit through the front door? Do I need a shower chair? Do I need a completely different kind of shower? Is my stove going to set me on fire?

A critically important and sometimes unasked question is whether you have a handyman to help with those things you can't do. Some people say it’s the most important question of all. Having a reliable person to call who will change a ceiling lightbulb or fix a leaky faucet can be pivotal to independent aging. There’s an increasing body of research that indicates the role of a readily available, licensed, bonded handyman is of critical importance in healthy aging.

“Handy” has many forms. It could be your next-door neighbor with his tool box and a willing heart or a competent and caring son-in-law. Or maybe it’s’ a “handywoman?” Ask the question, see where it takes you.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at

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