I read an article this past week that got me thinking about an issue that commonly arises as people grow older: let’s call it the “senior living shuffle.” This particular article recounts the story of a woman named Connie.
Connie and her husband, Dean, had been living in their own home and even took in Dean’s elderly mother, Ruth, who lived to be nearly 100. But just a few years after Ruth’s death, Dean died at age 74. Now widowed and living alone in the home, Connie found herself in a difficult, yet common, situation.
She decided to sell her long-time home and move in with one of her children temporarily. She then moved to a multi-generational apartment complex, but after a few years there, she began having some mobility issues that made navigating the community challenging, and she began to worry about what she would do if there were an emergency that required a speedy evacuation from the building.
Connie eventually moved out of the apartment and in with another of her children, but prior to her move there, the family had to undertake a number of home renovations to accommodate Connie’s mobility issues.
They gave her a bedroom on the first floor of the house and converted a half-bath into a full bath with a step-in shower. They also did some rearranging in the kitchen so that dishes and appliances were lower and more accessible. And they installed a handicap ramp so Connie can more easily navigate the home.
>> Related: The High Price of Family Caregiving
Moving, and moving, and moving again
This article described Connie’s senior living journey as a “whole family effort,” and indeed, over the years, it has been. But what Connie experienced was a classic example of the “senior living shuffle.” She went from living independently with her husband in their own home, to living temporarily with one adult child, to living in an apartment, to moving in permanently with another child, where she plans to live “for as long as her health allows,” the article says.
Bear in mind that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will require some level of care services at some point. So, depending on the unknown circumstances that could arise down the road, it may be that Connie must eventually move yet again — to an assisted living community or even a nursing home.
Alternately, Connie’s family may need to provide additional hands-on care — helping her dress or bathe, for example. While family caregiving is extremely common in the United States, with an estimated XXX people serving as caregiver to a loved one, it also can be a very stressful, expensive, and physically and emotionally draining undertaking.
The alternative would be that Connie’s family may need to hire a paid caregiver to assist her with such activities of daily living (ADLs). Paid caregiving can be a wonderful solution for some people, but it can also get very expensive very quickly, depending on the level and quantity of care services required by the senior.
The realities that accompany the senior living shuffle
While every person’s story is unique with its own specifics and details, Connie’s overall story is not so different from ones I’ve heard about from other people and have even experienced first-hand in my own family. Stories like this are often put into motion when one spouse dies, leaving the other alone and the family scrambling to figure out what to do with mom or dad. You’ve likely seen it happen with friends — either the adult children of the surviving parent, or older friends who have lost their life-partner.
Some families are ready and willing to take in an older loved one when this situation arises, like Connie’s adult-child did. They have the space (or make the space) for the senior and are prepared to take on the responsibilities that can accompany having an aging person in their home.
But other families aren’t not in a position to open their home up to an elderly loved one — or the senior doesn’t feel comfortable moving in. Maybe the family lacks the space or financial resources to have another person living in the home. Perhaps they do not have a close relationship, or for any number of reasons, their living situation simply isn’t conducive to taking in a senior. What then? It can create a situation that is stressful and uncertain for everyone involved.
Proactively avoiding the senior living shuffle
For some seniors, scenarios like Connie’s are their motivation for proactively making a move to a senior living community, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), before a crisis situation arises. CCRC includes independent living residences, where seniors who are still relatively healthy can reside, but CCRCs also include a full continuum of on-site care services if and when needed by a resident.
I realize that CCRCs are not the right fit for everyone, and there are lots of variables to consider. Yet thinking of Connie’s situation, if she had moved to a CCRC either when her husband was still living or once he passed away, she could have been in a safe and comfortable community that provided her with peace of mind. She would have access not only to a senior-friendly campus and amenities, but she could live in a residence that was conscientiously designed with seniors’ needs in mind (e.g., handicap-accessible buildings, one-level floorplans, accessible bathrooms and kitchens, etc.).
Additionally, if Connie had moved to a CCRC, she would have had convenient access to whatever care services she needs, if and when the time comes. CCRCs provide their independent residents with conveniences like meal plans, housekeeping, and exterior maintenance, but should they start to require a bit of assistance with ADLs, that often can be performed within the senior’s independent living residence.
If a resident of a CCRC eventually needs a higher level of care than can be safely offered within the residence, the resident can easily be moved to an on-campus assisted living unit or to the on-site healthcare center for skilled nursing care. This can be an especially attractive feature for couples since it allows partners who need different levels of care to remain physically close by.
Peace of mind for all
A majority of seniors say they want to remain in their current home for as long as possible. While I understand people’s desire for this level of independence, it often sets the stage for a “senior living shuffle” scenario if one spouse dies or a senior begins to require assistance.
While common, the “senior living shuffle” phenomenon can create a great deal of stress, guilt, and heartache for everyone involved — the senior and their loved ones. A proactive move to a CCRC, while the senior or seniors are still considered healthy, can avert the crisis-type circumstances that commonly lead up to a senior being shuffled from one temporary living situation to the next. A CCRC truly can give all parties a great deal of peace of mind.
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