Barbara Ehrenreich, popular author and self-described mythbuster, has written about how, having reached her mid-70s, she has lived long enough and now forgoes regular medical exams. And Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a 60-year-old oncologist and bioethicist, argues that we might all be better off, himself included, if he dies at 75. But many who have reached that age — yours truly included — may prefer to think our lives are but three-quarters over.
We may hope to see grandchildren graduate from college, then perhaps marry and have families of their own. We may have projects to fulfill and a “bucket list” of places to visit. And we’d like to continue to live independently — albeit with hired help on occasion for overly challenging tasks — as long as possible.
Which raises the inevitable question: What will it take to age well in place, in the surroundings we’ve long cherished that bring us physical, social and emotional comfort? What adaptations are needed to assure our safety and comfort and relieve our children’s legitimate concerns for our welfare?
Of course, aging in place is not for everyone. Some seniors may prefer to leave the dwelling long shared with a now-gone partner. Some may want the security of knowing that physical and medical assistance is but a bell-ring away. Others may simply be fed up with having to care for a home.
But for those of us who relish the familiarity of the status quo and perhaps cannot afford the $50,000 a year or more that assisted living would cost, our current homes may require some adjustments to postpone — and perhaps obviate — any need to move to safer if not more pleasurable dwellings.
Much has been written by organizations like AARP, and many volunteer and nonprofit services now exist, to help people like me age in place. But too often, the needed adaptations don’t happen until there’s an accident that may shorten or even end the life in question. Meanwhile, friends and relatives fret, wheedle and cajole — often to no avail — to get their aging loved ones to adopt important modifications to make their homes safer.
I recall how upset I was with a dear friend, then in her early 80s and 14 years my senior, who refused to replace, secure or remove throw rugs in her kitchen and hallway that were a serious trip hazard even for me.
So, for those of you with similar concerns about aging family members and friends, I recommend a very helpful, comprehensive yet not overwhelming book, “Age in Place: A Guide to Modifying, Organizing, and Decluttering Mom and Dad’s Home,” by Lynda G. Shrager, an occupational therapist for the last 37 years who has worked with seniors in their homes for more than 13 years. Ms. Shrager has good reasons to believe that addressing the challenges of independent living can help keep seniors safe and their kids sane.
“It’s cheaper to stay in your home, even if you have to make some renovations and get an aide a few days a week to help,” Ms. Shrager said in an interview. “It’s money well spent and a lot cheaper than assisted living. But it’s important not to wait until there’s a crisis — a parent falls and breaks her hip.”