Recently, I was talking with a sales counselor at a retirement community who said something she often hears from prospective residents is, “I like what your community has to offer, but I just love my home.”
I truly understand this sentiment. My job necessitates a fair amount of travel, and while I enjoy getting to see new places and meet new people on these trips, nothing beats the feeling of comfort and familiarity of walking through the door when I get home. This same mindset is likely a big reason why a huge majority (80 to 90 percent) of people over the age of 65 want to remain in their own home for as long as possible.
The draw of staying in your existing home
I firmly believe that if more people understood and explored the numerous senior living options that are available to them these days, they might reconsider this desire to stay in their current home. But, for the sake of argument, let’s examine some of the reasons people say they hope to stay in their current home.
Many people believe that staying in their own home is going to be the least expensive option for them as they age. And this might be the case…or it might not if there is an outstanding mortgage on the house or if a person ends up requiring long-term care for an extended period of time. It’s also worth noting that even when this does end up being the lowest-cost senior living option, the savings are frequently less than people expect them to be. Add to this the potential financial and emotional toll on a spouse or adult children that frequently comes with caring for an aging loved one, and the cost of staying in an existing home can go up quickly.
Your favorite restaurant. The grocery store that you know like the back of your hand. Long-time friends and neighbors living nearby. There is comfort in the familiarity of a place you have lived for many years. And it is understandable that people can’t imagine parting ways with a house they have lived in and raised their family in—a home that holds so many happy memories. But it is worth considering that the familiar can change quickly as neighbors move to be closer to family or retire someplace with a nicer climate, or as favorite businesses close, move, or change hands.
Nobody wants to envision a day when they require help with things they’ve been able to do by themselves for their entire adult life. This is why people have such a strong desire to maintain their independence, and nothing embodies this sense of freedom quite like living in your own home. The unfortunate irony is that many people actually end up enjoying less independence and more loneliness by remaining at home, both of which can result in serious declines in mental and physical health.
>> Related: Is “Aging Independently” a Myth?
Avoiding a move
There’s no denying that packing up a household and moving it is a lot of work. And most Americans who have lived in the same home for decades have managed to accumulate a lot of “stuff”…some of which they may not have used in many years. The prospect of sorting through and packing up all of their household goods and the memories associated with each item can be daunting, and it’s understandable that many seniors cringe at the mere thought. (Though the reality is that someone will have to take on this task at some point…whether it is the homeowner or, later down the road, their adult children.)
The flip side of staying in your existing home
If you are in the 65 and older demographic and fall into that 90 percent statistic for people wanting to remain in their own home, all of these common reasons are completely reasonable and legitimate. But for those hoping and/or planning to stay in their current home as they grow older, there are some important considerations to factor in since you can’t know exactly what your care needs will be in the future. Here are some key questions for you and your family to ponder now, before a healthcare issue arises.
- Is your bedroom upstairs or downstairs? Will your home need to be modified to accommodate potential mobility challenges? For example, are doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair? What about the height of the stove and cabinets?
- How will you take care of your home’s interior and exterior maintenance if physical activity becomes challenging?
- What will you do to maintain your sense of purpose and stay socially active if your mobility declines?
- If you are no longer able to drive safely, who will provide transportation to doctors’ appointments and other errands? Keep in mind that some retirement communities provide better services than others in terms of transportation so this is something to inquire about if you consider this alternative.
- If you fall and cannot get up on your own, how will you alert someone?
- Should your cognitive function decline, who will manage your household finances, ensuring bills are paid, necessary services are provided, etc.?
- Who will help you get dressed, prepare meals, and perform other activities of daily living (ADLs) if you are no longer able?
- If you require facility-based rehab care post-surgery or for and injury, do you know the options in your area and the quality of each?
- Have you interviewed care coordinators and case management companies in the event you or your partner requires assisted living or if a healthcare issue arises?
- Do you currently have any health conditions (like diabetes) that might become more difficult to manage over time?
- If you eventually need in-home care or assistance, who will manage scheduling and payments, and oversee the quality of the care being provided?
What does “home” mean to you?
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your decision about where you would like to live as you grow older. But it is important to fully understand the pros and cons of the choice you make. While remaining in the home is considered desirable for a large number of seniors, I encourage you to look at some of the challenges that this option may present, and I also recommend exploring alternative senior living options, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community) and other types, so you can make a fully informed choice about your future.
A home is a place where you should feel safe, cared for, and comfortable. Although you may love your house, you might just decide that the amenities, readily available care services, and peace of mind that come along with a CCRC’s continuum of care outweigh what you had thought were the benefits of remaining in your current residence.
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