Jack and Carole, both in their early 80s, realized their Rhode Island home was too much for them, with bedrooms on the second floor and the washer and dryer in the basement. They would soon need some help and decided a one-story home, minutes from their son in New Hampshire, was a good choice.
One week after they purchased their new house Carole was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
On the day of the move, after the furniture and boxes were placed in the home, Carole came out of her son’s car to enter the house. She had a walker with tennis balls on the bottom. My mom watched as Carole took a few steps and then had to sit down.
Jack and his son went into the house and grabbed a kitchen chair. They sat Carole down and carried her into the house.
My mom took the transport wheelchair we have for my father and brought it over to Jack and Carole. She asked them if they would like to borrow it and they were greatly appreciative. They had not planned on Carole needing something like that.
As my mother relayed this story to me last week, I was struck by the challenge that many seniors face in knowing when it’s the right time to move. While most seniors want to age in place, for some that may not be a realistic option.
Psychologists say believing yourself to be in better than normal condition for your age is typical of people in general. People tend not to feel old no matter what their age. They just get more and more surprised when they look in the mirror and see ways in which they are changing physically.
The fact is aging tends to be subtle, and the decision to move out of a current home is a complex one, both emotionally and physically. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why many seniors wait until it’s almost too late to make a move.
In the case of Jack and Carole, there was no way to predict that she would be diagnosed with cancer. But the couple are both in their early 80s, an age when health problems are almost a certainty.
The likelihood of having any disease or condition increases with age. According to a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in developed countries about 64 percent of children under age 5 had a health problem in 2013, compared with 99.97 percent of adults ages 80 and older.
In a 2017 study on depression in older adults published in Health Psychology, it was noted that “when older adults with functional limitations allow themselves to withdraw effort and commitment from goals that are no longer attainable, they have less chance of depression.”
Using this philosophy, for those seniors who find themselves unable to safely and comfortably go about their activities of daily life in their current home, allowing themselves to give up the dream of aging in place may lead to more positive mental health in the long run. The challenge is to come to this realization before it is too late.
My friend Tony and his wife, also in their 80s, decided it was time to sell their home and move back to Italy to be near their daughter. Just as they were selling their house, Tony had a terrible car accident and spent months in skilled nursing as he recovered. His wife moved to an assisted-living facility to await his recovery.
The probability that either of them will ever be able to move to Italy now is very small.
If there is a moral to these stories it is to have a plan for your future care and to make changes before the need becomes urgent.
Andrea Gallagher, a certified senior advisor, is president of the Senior Concerns nonprofit agency. For more information, visit www.seniorconcerns.org, or for questions or comments, send an email to email@example.com.