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When You Can, But Maybe Shouldn’t, Stay In Your Home

By Sally Abrahms

If you had a choice between staying in your own home, in familiar surroundings, or moving when you get older, my guess is that you’d opt to stay. According to studies, most people are with you.

It may seem like an obvious decision, but there are many factors to consider. If you are healthy, active and live in a community that makes day-to-day living easy, staying at home can beat other options, including long-term care—as in independent or assisted living or a nursing home. (However, the range of offerings provided by these facilities – help if you need it, activities, companionship –can also be attractive.)

But what if your beloved house has steep steps, narrow doorways (where would a future walker go?), no first floor bedroom or full bathroom, hard-to-navigate bathtubs and showers, too high kitchen counters and cabinets, and safety hazards galore?

Perhaps you could make slight changes, retrofit the space, radically renovate or build an addition so it’s better suited for the older you. There are numerous online resources to learn what you need to do to make your place safe, accessible and easier to navigate. Check out the AARP HomeFitGuide, Aging in Place and the National Aging in Place Council. (Tip: Before you do an upgrade, ask a realtor how it will affect resale value.)

You might prefer to move to an apartment or condo with an elevator, for example, but live in the same community where you have rich friendships and history.

Let’s do some more imagining: your current house has everything to make it work for all stages of life. But, it’s not near public transportation or amenities like restaurants, stores, movies or medical offices. Will you still want to shop and cook regularly and do all the home maintenance? You drive now, but what if you give it up down the road? You may be isolated in your leafy cul-de-sac or rural refuge.

When evaluating whether to stay or go, where you live when you’re older is not just about the suitability of your house. It’s also about living in a community where you feel valued and connected. It’s about having opportunities to meaningfully engage with others and being able to get what you need as your needs change.

As one geriatrician recently told me, “You can have the most wonderful house in the country with the most wonderful view that you thought was perfect for growing older. But, if you can no longer drive and there are no community resources to help you, that wonderful house can be impractical and unrealistic.”

So yes, having to leave a house you don’t want to leave is difficult. But think of the bigger picture –now!