“I am 83 years old and live alone. My husband is dead and all my children live far away, one in Europe. My oldest son lives 1,800 miles away and is very successful in his business. He has asked me to move to his town. He will build an addition on his house for me or find me a condo nearby. He already told me he would finance my move. I don’t want to move away from my friends and the home my husband and I built almost 40 years ago. I am being pressured and I don’t know what to do.”
This email (edited for brevity) describes a pretty common problem these days. An elderly parent living alone with children living far away results from societal changes we have all witnessed. People are living longer and family members are scattered.
I am one of these elderly parents with no children around. And I too have many friends in Tucson, a community I love, and have lived in my house (which is also aging) for 38 years.
What are the options for living arrangements as we age and are becoming less able to live by ourselves?
We can age in place, in our own home. We can move to a senior community either where we live or where a child lives. We can relocate to a home or apartment where a child lives.
The factors that influence this decision are our age, physical and cognitive health, financial resources, and how we feel about these options. I have decided not to move to be close to a child. Here is why.
Ten years ago I thought that I would move at some time because of my own experience. For 11 years between my mother’s hip fracture and her death at 99, I traveled from Tucson to Boston 70 times. I had the medical burden and vowed I would not do this to my children because it was difficult for me, especially when my husband got sick.
My sister had the geographical burden of mother’s care because she lived 20 miles away. My nephew, successful in his business, volunteered to pay for mother’s round-the–clock caregivers and house modifications so she could stay in her home.
My mother got her wish to age in place. Though she could not have afforded what was needed her grandson could. It sounds idyllic and for a time it was. Family, friends, and neighbors visited. We celebrated birthdays at her home. I called her every day and we chatted and relived many memories. But as she aged her friends also aged and she outlived them all. She got frail and lived her last years in loneliness though my sister and I visited as often as we could.
Why did I decide to stay here instead of moving near one of my children? Mainly because my children’s careers meant they were as likely to move as to stay “in place.” And one move is enough for an old lady.
I will decide between a senior community here or aging in place. I do not have resources that my mother had which brings me to one of the biggest obstacle to seniors staying in our home…money.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging inplace as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” This is the ideal but physical and cognitive declines will likely require hiring more help and further house modifications. Resources we counted on for our old age may not be enough. This is especially true of those in the middle as those at the top have the money and there are some government resources for those at the bottom.
In the Utopian future architects may help by building houses suitable for aging in place. Also by designing houses with suitable space for two or more non-family persons to live together. Congenial people can share expenses for caregiving and driving.
My answer to today’s questioner? First of all you are fortunate to have a son able to make this offer. In addition to providing a place to live he is committing himself to care for you without having to get on an airplane. Believe me, this makes his life easier. I suggest you thank your son profusely as many elders would like him to adopt them. If you are able to care for yourself, explain your feelings about staying in your home and ask if he will provide funds to make your home safe. I would also talk with him about accepting his offer in the future.
Reserve the right to change your mind because in 10 years you may be very happy to sit nodding by the fire in the cozy addition to your son’s home.