My parents have been living in the same house – the house I grew up in – since 1963. It is the one and only home they have ever purchased together.
Last spring, my mom (77) and dad (78) were considering a major renovation. They also own a summer cottage, 15 miles south in Rhode Island (my grandfather built it when my mom was a little girl), in which they spend every summer, from mid-May through mid-October.
As the only child and, considering the time, effort and money that would go into a renovation of this type (not to mention the fact that for years, they have talked about seeking a warmer climate for the winter), I decided to have “the conversation” with them about living arrangements.
In the end, and for many of the reasons discussed below, we agreed that the renovation was not wise. Instead, I’m happy to report that my parents successfully sold their home and have closed on a condo in Florida, in which they will spend their winters. They’ll move in for the first time this fall!
Don’t wait for a crisis
Many of my clients are the children of “older adults,” those whom I define as over the age of 80. When I ask how things are going with their parents, one response I hear often is, “Mom and/or Dad really needs to move out of that big house.”
They go on to explain how the house is too big and their parents don’t need that much space anymore. Or how there are multiple hazards, such as steep stairs, old tubs, etc. Often, they say that maintenance is a problem and the house just doesn’t look as good as it once did.
My clients may also share the fact that their parents plan to die in their home (they love where they live), they’ve never had a discussion on the topic as a family, and they believe that there is nothing they, as adult children, can do about it.
I don’t quite agree.
Please understand, there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to live in a comfortable and familiar space, particularly one filled with wonderful memories. But the fact is, there could be a precipitating event (e.g., a fall, an illness) that precludes that plan from happening.
Wouldn’t it be better to at least have some discussion now, regarding the alternatives?
Things to consider
When someone has been hospitalized and a discharge plan devised, one of the first items discussed is the physical space they’ll be returning to. Specifically, what will it take for the person to enter their home and, once in, to get out safely?
Next, we’ll look at functionality. In other words, how well can they perform what are commonly referred to as “activities of daily living” (ADLs)? These include both “self-care” activities such as feeding, bathing, getting dressed and moving from room to room, as well as tasks related to the support and care of the home environment itself, such as performing basic housework, managing finances, shopping for groceries and communicating with the outside world.
In my parents’ case, and while both are quite active and healthy, a major renovation at this stage in life seemed ill-advised. Why spend the time and money now, when instead they could move to their preferred warmer climate and continue enjoying life together immediately?
It was only through a frank discussion, and our ability to separate their emotional attachment to the house, from the practical considerations involved, that we were able to reach a decision that makes the most sense for them.
Start the discussion now
I’ve received many a panic-stricken phone call from clients who find themselves in the position of having to quickly make major life decisions on behalf of their parents. It’s never easy, particularly when it concerns the question of whether or not an older adult can return to their cherished home.
That said, it’s much, much easier if the transition – and the possible alternatives, whether that’s hiring private home-care services, renovating space to accommodate physical needs, moving into an independent/assisted living facility, or something else entirely – have been discussed ahead of time.
Please, do your family a favor, sit down with your parents, and have these important conversations today!