By Michelle Seitzer
Bob Gifford was doing yard work when he decided a retirement community was the best choice for his senior years.
As he stepped down from the ladder, he missed a rung and fell. "I threw the ladder over the fence to my neighbor—who was always borrowing it anyway—and said, 'That's it; we're outta here.'"
His wife, Rita, was on the same page.
"We had a small house, so we thought we should probably stay there forever since it was going to be easy to maintain," Rita says. But with a large yard, the pending need for a new roof, and other upkeep issues, the Giffords took decisive action. They have since enjoyed ten-plus years at an amenity-rich, socially active suburban Baltimore community, and they are happy with their decision—as were their children. "You probably could have heard my daughter's sigh of relief all the way from Denver," says Rita.
When it comes to exploring options for receiving care—at home, in senior living, or in a healthcare setting—the Giffords' advice is simple: "Don't wait." Waiting limits choices, and it may impact the ability to take full advantage of what the setting has to offer. "Some of our friends here are still waiting for their homes to sell, or they require use of a walker or wheelchair and aren't able to participate in the community's many events," Bob says. And the community's tech keeps residents informed and independent: each apartment is furnished with a modified iPad to let them know a package is waiting at the front desk, or to highlight upcoming social events.
Adjusting to a New Normal
Moving to a retirement community wasn't what Muriel Henderson and her husband had envisioned for their future, but shortly after their transition nine years ago, the unexpected happened. "His illness was not what we planned at all, but I was happy to have him here," says Muriel. By deciding in advance like the Giffords, the Hendersons didn't have to rush in finding an ideal community in their home area, or in selling their house. Muriel is happy with the result. "Who knows the future?" says Henderson. "In the past, families absorbed elders. Now, they can be independent for a longer time in a retirement community." And, she adds, it's nice to have people around instead of being alone at home, and a number of great activities "to do or not do."
When Home, With Help, Is Best
Violet Stengele and her husband desire to stay in their home as long as possible, and she believes seniors should try that first before considering other (costly) options. "Our children have been very supportive," says Stengele, who, with their help, cares for her husband, who has health needs. "One of our [four] kids always goes with us to appointments, and my husband's doctor comes to the home." The Stengeles use a cell phone and have a church family that "keeps tabs" on them too. "You should also look into programs—some that are covered by Medicare—to get extra help at home," suggests Violet, who has looked into home-based assistance with care tasks for her husband should the need arise.
Tech Support for Aging in Place
Bill Dean is happy to be home, where the WWII veteran's wife is his primary caregiver. "I would like to stay in my home as long as I can, as long as it is safe and my wife is able to do most of the care," says Dean.
As a veteran, he also has the support of a "wonderful home health aide" for 10 hours a week, and receives in-home primary care, lab work, and other services through the VA's Rural Health Program. Though he needs assistance with bathing and dressing, he can still walk in his home with the use of a cane, and a stair glide and vertical platform lift provided by the VA has made going up and down the steps easier and safer.
"Since I am legally blind, I use an enhanced vision machine," Dean says. "We bought the first one about 10 years ago, but the VA [recently] provided an upgrade. This helps me read the paper and devotional materials," says Dean. He also enjoys watching football games on his wife's smartphone or on their large screen TV.
Dean's two sons are supportive of his decision to stay home, and though he wishes he had more socialization there, Dean advises older adults to do the following for a more fulfilled future: "Do as many things for yourself as you can. Learn to accept help when needed. Care about your carers."
Whatever you and your parents or older relatives decide, a back-up care plan is vital. Read our post for help in creating your back up plan..