The Life Transition Blog

How to Decide Where to Age

Recently, I’ve found myself working with several client families who are deciding where and how they (or their aging parent) should live as they age. While each situation differs in some important ways from the others, there is a set of common tools that work well in this situation. If you are thinking about this important question for yourself or helping a loved one to make the decision give this approach a try.

The first step is to have an open and honest discussion about the wishes, wants and needs of each person who will be affected by the decision. If you don’t have a spouse, partner, or child with whom to do this then enlist a friend or a trusted advisor. It’s important to have someone there who will ask the tough questions and make you think about the answers and not just validate what you say you want to do just because you said it.

It’s important to talk about all kinds of parameters without judging. Focus on making the list at this point, not on organizing or editing it. Here are a few questions to get you started:

How much space do you really need? How much space do you want? If the two answers differ, explore why. I have observed that many women feel they want a large kitchen with lots of storage but when the discussion gets specific they acknowledge that they’d rather make reservations than cook. Do you plan to age in place? If so, why this preference? Have you thought about the logistics of that desire? For example, is there a flight of stairs to get to your unit or to the master bedroom? Is there at least one bathroom that can accommodate a wheelchair or could be easily modified to do so? Is there a second bedroom and private bathroom where a live-in caregiver could live if that becomes necessary? How comfortable would you be to have a caregiver living in your home with you?

Do you have a readily available social support structure nearby? If you begin to have mobility issues or can no longer drive will you quickly become isolated or do you live in an active community with lots going on nearby? How do your personal finances stack up? Do you own a long term care insurance policy? Are you still paying a mortgage and/or equity loan on your residence? What financial resources are available to you to fund possible future care needs? Are you living within your means today? Are there ways to reduce expenses or increase income? What worries you the most about this decision? Is it running out of money, being a burden on family members, feeling isolated and alone, or losing your independence (to name just a few common concerns)?

Once you have addressed these sorts of questions it’s time to articulate a couple of scenarios and then to analyze them. For example, one of my clients is currently trying to decide whether to see his condo and move to a senior living community. We are looking at the two scenarios based on the economics by running cash flows for each of them out for five years beyond his statistical life expectancy. This particular client is more worried about running out of money than anything else and wants to be sure that he has adequate resources to fund his decision. For another client the main concern is not being a burden to her children so we are evaluating her options by placing the most weight on that parameter.

There are no “right answers” when it comes to this important decision. Rather, there are only answers that are right for you given your current and expected future situation.
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