"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Is Your Home Retirement Ready?

     Maybe my wife and I are in denial. We've been talking to some friends lately, and it seems that everyone we know has prepared themselves for living with a disability -- or "aging in place" as they say. Meanwhile, we're cruising along in a center hall colonial that was built in the early 1960s.

     We have a yard. This afternoon we're going outside to rake leaves. Fortunately, we only have to get the leaves to the curb. Our town picks them up. Still, even though we have a small yard, we have an oak tree and a couple of maple trees, plus there's a huge tree in our next-door neighbor's yard that seems to drop most of its leaves onto our lawn. 

     Meanwhile, most of our friends have moved into a townhouse or condominium. They don't have to rake leaves at all.

     We'll see how my arthritic ankles and knees hold out for the afternoon. But my wife B says the exercise is good for me. 

     We know several people who have moved out of their family home into a one-story house. The master bedroom is on the first floor. They don't have to climb steps.

     Our bedroom is on the second floor. I go up and down the stairs at least ten times a day. Again, B says it's good for me.

Be careful!
     Actually, going up the stairs doesn't bother me. But going down is a little more difficult. I get a twinge in my knee, a crack in my ankle. I have resolved to always make sure to hold onto the bannister when negotiating the stairs. I know the last thing you want when you're our age is a fall. 

     So what about you . . . have you given up lawn care, settled into living on one floor without the hazard of stairs?

     One good thing for us: We have only one step up to enter the house. I remember when we were touring around a few years ago looking for a place to retire. We considered Charleston, SC, where we have family. Every house we looked at was built on stilts. We had to climb a full set of stairs just to get to the front door. It honestly didn't bother me at the time -- we moved to Pennsylvania for other reasons -- but today I'm glad I don't live in a house that's 12 or 14 feet off the ground.

     What about throw rugs? They are a tripping hazard in my book. But B thinks that they look nice, that they brighten up the place. We've compromised. There's a throw rug in her office, and another one in the guest room. But for the most part we have bare floors, except for the carpeting in our bedroom.

     When we redid our bathroom, I insisted on installing a grab bar. I remembered the time, six or eight years ago, when I slipped in the shower. I grabbed the soap dish and pulled it out of the wall. I went down hard, taking the shower curtain and shower rod with me, ending up sprawled over the edge of the tub. I didn't break any bones. But I had a nasty bruise from hip to shoulder -- one that took two months to clear up entirely.

     Some other things to watch out for:  Lighting. We have good lighting on our stairs. But there are darker areas in the house, and yes, I have tripped over the corner of a chair, or banged my hip on the side of a kitchen counter. But even if you have good lights, you have to turn them on to do any good. I have been known to prowl through the house at night when I can't sleep and decide I need to find the kitchen, or the bathroom ... all in the dark. 

   Most of our doorknobs are the old-fashioned round ones that you twist to open or close. But we do have a levered doorknob on the front door. I don't know why. We didn't put it there. But in all honesty I do find it easier to open and close than the door to the garage which seems to simultaneously get stickier and slipperier with every passing year.

     There's definitely more for us to do to get ready for "aging in place." One thing I refuse to worry about is making the house wheelchair accessible. When and if that time ever comes, I'm heading off to a retirement community.


Tabor said...

Change the hardware to the important doors to levers.
Buy some motion detector lights for your ease in walking around when lights are off.
The issue with a bedroom on the second can become more serious before you age too much. All you need is a sprained ankle, surgery on your knee, etc. Can you change a room on the first floor to a guest bedroom/office for now?
My husband loves lawn care and it does keep him healthy. Do it as long as you can.
It doesn't hurt to keep your eyes open if you want to move in the future, you can see how real estate is changing.
We all are going through this now.

Miss Merry said...

We began our married life in a one story ranch "starter home" and had too many children too quickly and never left, despite our mothers and everyone else constantly telling us we needed to move. We now have a huge family room addition and many people tell us we were smart to stay here. I have a family history of accommodating aging grandparents and parents; my mother had late onset ALS. Having an "accommodating" house has been priority for me.

We eliminated throw rugs after I slipped in the kitchen and fractured my arm. We have enlarged doorways and put in bigger doors for all the bedrooms and bath after scrapping my hands while my mother visited. We have gradually replaced faucets and such with easy to use levers. Our last step will be the walk-in shower in the bathroom. I am still waiting for progress from my retired plumber husband who is always doing projects for others, but I am pretty sure it is coming up on his list. We already have grab bars after a very similar shower incident with a crash, a shower curtain and shower rod many years ago. We have no basement which means we have a first floor laundry.

I considered the lawncare and snow removal issues. Our home is paid for and I think that we can hire the work done cheaper than condominium fees in our community.

Arkansas Patti said...

Think I am in pretty good shape. At night, I have battery candles in my living room windows so any night time prowling is quite easy. I am sure a burgler would also appreciate it:)
As for the yard, I can still mow and actually enjoy it but am now having to hire out the weed eating.
Think when I can no longer manage a riding mower, I may hunt for a place where that is no longer a chore. We will see.

Gail, northern California said...

Six years after my husband died, I sold our big two-story house. Rattling around in a house with three bedrooms, five bathrooms, an office and two-car garage seemed ridiculous. Plus, it wasn't the same without him.
Now, I live in a small two-bedroom, one-bath cottage. Right off the bat, I hired a gardener and installed an automatic garage door opener. One area rug at the entryway.
Things change -- like it or not.

Barb said...

My daughter the Occupational Therapist twas adamant on the throw rugs and on the grab bars, most than one (and by the way, the right way to enter the shower is to hold on and bend your knee behind you to get in rather than lifting your leg in the front in a tub shower situation). I have levers on all doors. I don't have any steps and I've been told to avoid the down as it is much more damaging to the joints while up can actually build strength(hence that exercise move is one step up and back flat). I didn't do yard work before and had it hired out. If you like it do it, if you dont like it pay someone who does. I've also made some kitchen adjustments as to what I can reach without climbing or using a stool and have made sure I have clear paths everywhere.

Tom said...

Well, Gail, one of the important things for my wife when we bought our current downsized house was that it be a place she could take care of by herself if and when she ends up alone. I found that criterion kind of spooky -- because I know what she means -- but I can't fault her, it's perfectly practical.

Gail, northern California said...

It would be nice if more husbands were as practical, understanding and thoughtful, Tom.
Like most couples, we kept our heads in the sand. Then it was left to me to pack up 45 years.
I like to think he would be very proud of me and what I've accomplished.

Marianne said...

We moved from a 3 story house near the beach to a one story inland, and it was the best thing we did. My husband has arthritis and is much more comfortable on one floor. We also moved closer to younger family members. We removed the big tub, added a built in bench and a walk in shower which is much easier to navigate. I agree that if you need a wheel chair you may need more care than the spouse can provide.

Jeanette Lewis said...

I've always believed that there's never a perfect house nor a perfect living arrangement. During 55 years of marriage, we've lived in big houses and small apartments. After downsizing 5 years ago, we moved to a smaller house with a yard rather than condo living. We hire help to do snow removal and take care of the grass and the shrubs. It's not perfect but suits us at this stage of our lives. As our lives change and independent living becomes more difficult for one or both of us, we may need to make changes. Sometimes we spend too much time seeking ideal arrangements and forget that nothing is perfect and nothing can meet every need.

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DrumMajor said...

Love lots of these ideas. I'm in a pretty good spot to age in where I'm at. The idea to put motion detecting lights INSIDE is great! I have 3 outside to get from my car to my front door easily. Thanks, Linda in flat Kansas

Carole said...

After my husband died, I moved into a condominium. I love it. It's about 1000 sq ft, garage in the basement with access via elevator, all lawn care and snow plowing done by HOA. I feel safe here. It is a community of older, caring adults.

I use motion detector night lights that will light my way when I get up at night. When I get into my walk-in shower, I place my phone right near the shower, so that if I were to fall, I could ask Siri to call for help.

Stackable washer and dryer are in a small closet with the furnace. I really love the condo living. Just right for me. Aging in place is everyone's goal; some situations make it easier than others. But in the end, we never really know how "the end" will play out, do we?

ApacheDug said...

Living in various apartments since 1980, this is something I never gave real thought to. But I will say this, in 2017 I decided to get a bigger place, narrowed it down to two properties and chose the apartment building formerly built for senior citizens (but now not exclusive to them). All of the hallways and apt doors are exxxtra wide (to accommodate all medicare equipment) and every outside set of steps has a concrete ramp alongside them. We have "Emergency" buttons on every floor, trash & laundry rooms on every floor, a "hospital deep" elevator and ambulance service is literally 2 minutes away. I'm here for the long haul. :^)

Tom said...

Doug -- Sounds like the perfect setup. I'm guessing in a couple of years we'll be looking for a place like yours or possibly Carole's condo.

Barbara said...

This has gotten me thinking about the comparison from my senior complex to my current regular-people complex. I think I'll share my thoughts in a post.

Rian said...

We have lived in this house we built for 36 years. I doubt that we will move. Moving is a bit too much to even think about. Maybe we waited too long, I don't know. But although it's a bit bigger than we need, it's comfortable and the neighborhood and area is good and convenient. We may need to hire some help (but inside and out) eventually, but so far we do OK. I guess since everything we need is convenient and all our doctors are here, we won't move until it becomes a necessity. If something happens to one of us, its possible we would have to revisit this thought.

David @iretiredyoung said...

At 52, I'm hoping I have some time before I have to think too seriously about this topic. However, my general thought process is that some things can become a self fulfilling prohophecy. If I adjust my accommodation so that I don't need to walk so much, don't need to go up and down stairs etc, then it could lead to a state where I can't do these things, not because there's no way it would be possible, but because I don't regularly practice and my body therefore deteriorates. I think movement is good and vital, and my plan is to keep doing it for as long as possible.

Wisewebwoman said...

When my health had declined after a bad fall I made the decision to move into my independent seniors living apartment and I've never looked back. It is accessible, and has an emergency bell in the bathroom and in the bedroom and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and scenery.

Living alone is far, far different than sharing. I found the large house, even though I had maintenance (snow and grass) was too worrisome apart from the difficulty in negotiating those stairs after the fall. I really had to recognize that things were not going to improve.

Many leave this decision far too late and are so unhappy with the emergency living accommodations that ensue. I was able to choose and go on a waiting list.

I've never looked back and was grateful to be living here in the last two years of ill-health, now improved.


Mage said...

Throw rugs: I tripped and fell and my husband had to phone 911 to get me up.
Stairs: We have stair lifts.
Leaves: Sierra club says let them sit. They will turn into mulch.
I have maybe only two more years, and I am going to spend them at home.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I am living in a new house that my landlady and girlfriend in her mid-60s had built for two 60+-year-olds. There are a few things she missed as far as making it appropriate for aging in place although most of it is pretty easy. My roommate recently had knee surgery and luckily she has a shower that doesn't have a step up but should have had pull bars. My bathroom is a tub shower so I have to step up to get in. Luckily, I have no problem with that, for now. Universal design is a great concept for older people when planning a new home or renovating one. It adult-proofs the house for seniors.

Carol Cassara said...

We've been in a one-story house for more than a decade. It also has wide doorways. ;-) aging in place

Janette said...

We thought long and hard about the house we built and moved to in June. Seven retirement years and the elderly loss of three of our four parents- we have seen what can break down relationships and bodies. Realistically we know we will be leaving this all behind to live very close to one or both of our kids when we are in our late 80s, God willing.
What did we come up with? All doors are slide or levered- 36in entrances and pathways. All drawers in the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Few upper cabinets. Walk in pantry.New outlet covers are night lights - led on all inside paths, in each room, and in the corner of our kitchen(easy to replace in your current house). Other outlet covers that have USB ports. Luxury vinyl floors. Nat Gas fireplace centralizing heat in the living room/ master. Walk in shower with pebble floor. Fun looking grab bars for showers and toilets. Walk in carpeted closet with area for dressing. Closet has a small pass through to laundry room. Crawl space provides “whole house” heat and cool on the floors instead of ceilings. Triple paned windows . Sheltered porch. Inside utility room. Workshop in separate bay in the main garage.
I wish we there were not any steps up to the house (3), but we live in snow country. No trees- not one. Raised bed gardens on rock. Easy lawn to mow. I am sure we missed something. My builder thought we were crazy. We love it.

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Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

In my 40s, I moved into a one-floor condo after my divorce. Living in New England at that time, it was not only the leave raking that I was thinking of (I didn't mind mowing or gardening) it was the snow shoveling that I wanted to make sure was being taken care of. And I'm so glad we were there during some pretty bad blizzards! Now we're in Florida and living in a one-floor apartment while we figure out our next move.

Back then, the one-floor condo was what was available in my post-divorce price range. Now, it's a necessity because of arthritis in my knee.

Revoix said...

Thanks for writing this story Tom, as it is certainly "boomer relevant." I have followed your blog for many years and always appreciate your wisdom. Please keep doing what you are doing, as it benefits many, many people.

Linda Myers said...

I think we're ready. We remodeled the daylight basement of our family home. No stairs, ADA compliant. That's for the six months of the year we live in Washington State. Our winter place is a park model trailer in a Tucson retirement community. We just don't need that much space these days.

We have throw rugs, and they are taped to the floor with double-sided tape. Seems to work!

Kay said...

We've tried our best to have our house senior ready, especially because of my 92 year old mother. We have grab bars in the shower/bath stalls. We have handrails on both sides of the stairs which I find very helpful. I hate going up our stairs to the 2nd floor. I don't mind going down. We have 21 steps between floors which is way too much but does provide exercise.