The Life Transition Blog

I’m Not Ready Yet: Aging Parents and Household Transitions

So often, aging parents intellectually know that their current living situation isn’t right for them anymore but seem unable to take the steps necessary to do something about it. Studies consistently show that most people would like to live independently in their own residence for as long as possible. While this makes sense in the abstract, many older adults do reach the point where this is not practical or possible for one reason or another unless some changes are made. The most common refrain I hear in these situations is, “where will I go?”

As you plan for your future, think about the options of aging-in-place vs. senior living. Which makes sense for you (or your aging parents) will often depend on economics and available resources. Be sure to consider not only traditional assets like investment accounts, but also the proceeds from the sale of your home, possible VA benefits, disbursements from long term care insurance policies, or the option of a reverse mortgage. Consider your physical, social, and transportation requirements. Don’t only focus on what you need today, but also think about what you might need in the future. And, don’t only consider your needs. Your wants are important too.

“Aging in place” commonly means staying where you live right now with appropriate modifications that will keep you safe and comfortable as you age. For example, if you have been diagnosed with a condition that pretty much guarantees that you will have increasing mobility issues, remodeling your bathroom with a roll-in shower, grab bars, and wheelchair accessible toilet is necessary. On the other hand, “aging in place” might just as easily mean transitioning to another, more suitable private residence. For example, if your current home has a second floor master bedroom and no elevator, you might consider selling that home and purchasing one that is all on one level. Alternatively, if you are thinking about senior living options, your choices include rental, purchase, and life care. There are pros and cons to each of these alternatives and which is best for you will depend on many factors.

After “where will I go?” the second most common objection I hear from older adults when the topic of where they will live in their final years comes up is, “I’m not ready yet.” There are lots of reasons why they’re not ready but they tend to fall into three categories.

First, there’s fear, denial, and anger. Getting old stinks and no one wants to admit that it’s happening to them. Whatever the reason, being “ready” means acknowledging that the home you are moving to is likely to be your last home, and that implies confronting your mortality. Plan early, because it is inevitable that each of us will have a “last” home and most of us would like to be able to choose it for ourselves. The longer you take to get ready and confront this and make some decisions, the more likely you won’t get to make the decisions at all.

Second, there’s the mere thought of downsizing. What will I do with my stuff? How can I part with my treasures? Recently, I was working with a client who was planning to move from her large home to a one bedroom independent living apartment. She opened the cabinet where she keeps her wine glasses and she had three dozen each of glasses for red, white, and champagne. I asked her whether she planned to keep any and she told me that she would keep all of them because she still regularly entertains. Upon further questioning, I learned that this couple invites a few people over about once a month. A dozen of each type of glass would be more than adequate. Once we talked about it, the client agreed and we were able to send them to her recently married granddaughter. Sometimes, just coming up with a plan for disposing of the extra household treasures is enough to help someone get ready for the necessary transition.

Finally, thinking about the move itself is overwhelming. Getting bids. Coordinating the packing. Supervising on moving day. Unpacking. Furniture layout. Hanging pictures. I’m tired just thinking about it! If you are an older adult, it’s likely that you don’t have the stamina to do this all yourself. Fortunately, household transition specialists are available.

One of the biggest mistakes I see is folks who wait too long. By the time they decide what they want to do they no longer qualify for that option for physical or financial reasons. At that point, their choices are more limited and it’s no wonder that they feel like they’ve lost control of the situation
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