Safety before comfort for seniors

“There’s no place like home.” It offers comfort, belonging and safety. Yet sometimes our intrinsic tie to the place where we have lived for 40, 50 and 60 years can become a completely unsafe situation. When we age, so does our home.

Most of my clients categorically tell me, “I don’t want to move.” They have been living in the comfort of their own home for 50 years and cannot think about moving to a small apartment in a communal dwelling. I truly understand this sentiment, as I heard it said loudly and often from my own grandparents. But at what point does the home become a burden to our lives?

Even with regular maintenance, big ticket items come up when a house ages. Furnace, hot water heater, roof and plumbing, not to mention yard care, tree pruning and gutter cleaning. With a fixed income, these items add up. If you need extra help to live in the home — housekeeping, bathing assistance, transportation or meal preparation — it can feel like all that you have saved for gets eaten up. Also, many houses on Mercer Island were not built with the aging person in mind. Many have multiple stairs with no level entries, bathrooms with poor access and often steep driveways to the house. The very place that brings feelings of comfort can start to become a burden.

And then there are some who do not take care of the regular maintenance for their aging homes or recognize the needs of their aging selves. Even when their situations become so dire, they still want to stay in their home even if it is falling down around them.

Few of my clients go through a mental check list to figure out what their definitions of comfort and safety are. For them, having a large, aging house is a burden, and looking at other options is much more appealing. For them, the emphasis is on downsizing and transitioning the responsibility for a physical structure to some other entity.

The uncertainty about your future may mean that you need to plan for different options. Planning can include resources for home help and the costs, places that you might consider if you have to move, or even plans for universal design (plans that promote accessibility) during a remodel. This planning can help you prepare for the future, knowing that it is not always what you expect.

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 17 years. She provides social services to people 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at (206) 275-7752, e-mail or mail MIYFS 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, WA 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.

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