One of our newest clients represents a pretty typical senior housing quandary.
A woman in her early 70s with recently diagnosed dementia and her husband have lived in the same sprawling, ranch-style home for about 20 years. They finished raising their daughters in this big, comfortable home now stuffed to bursting with memorabilia and antiques. The large fenced yard allowed them to keep several big dogs and the swimming pool was fun for everyone. A busy accountant, the husband decompressed working on his amazing rose gardens.
But lately, no one stops in for a swim, the rose garden is more of a chore than a de-stressor and the recessed living room is a safety hazard. Our client cannot drive anymore and the home is buried in a suburban development far from shops and parks. The couple has had to face the reality that taxes are steadily increasing, the yard and pool maintenance is skyrocketing and the husband will soon be spending more time at home with his wife than at work.
This couple is lucky. They have two loving and energetic daughters, who are helping them downsize before a crisis. As I wrote in my column “Aging with Care: When is the right time to downsize?” families like this often need to take a look at the future and decide to rightsize the parents while everyone involved can help make decisions.
What if parents don’t want to move?
This is a tricky question. There is no one -size-fits-all solution; it’s all about perspective. When you talk about downsizing, your loved one may interpret that to mean that you want them to give up their beloved home for a life in an “old folks’ home.”
Downsizing may seem like the obvious solution to the younger generation. However, they probably won’t realize what an emotional ordeal it may be for the parents to part with the family home filled with its history, familiarity and emotion.
Still the kids need to be sensitive to these intangibles as they discuss earth-shaking changes to their parents’ lives. This is the time to talk as a family about everyone’s feelings and concerns.
Factors to consider
Here are some signs you may want to downsize.
As people move toward or through retirement, many people hope to stretch their retirement savings by decreasing expenses.
A smaller and cheaper property can help do that by reducing property taxes, insurance and mortgage payments.
- Feeling Overwhelmed
This can be from the physical work of caring for a large property or from worrying over home finances.
It takes a lot of energy and time as well as money spent paying others to help you clean or maintain a home. Bigger houses take more work.
- Unused Rooms
Walking by rooms in your home that do nothing but collect dust is a sign you should consider downsizing.
Moving to a smaller home can mean you consume less energy, use less space and spend less money.
- The Kids Are Gone
A family home is full of memories and childhood knickknacks that take up space and energy. It could be time to sift through the memorabilia and downsize your property.
- Cash in on your Investment
If appreciation has happened, it may be time to cash in on your home’s value. Downsizing to a smaller home or rented property can provide more financial freedom.
Safety is perhaps the most important consideration. Are your loved ones able to maneuver safely in their home? Are they able to climb stairs as needed and get to the rooms they use most?
If your loved ones no longer drive, how easy is it for them to get to their doctor, their place of worship, the homes of friends and family, and the shops they need.
It’s worth repeating that today’s seniors have more care options than ever — from aging in place with the help of family, friends and professional caregivers; to continuing-care residences, where they can live as independently as possible while knowing, if needed, more care is available; to skilled nursing homes where they have 24/7 care for serious medical problems. All facilities offer tours, and seeing the options for themselves may help your elders clarify which option is right for them.
It is important to remember, too, that you can take small steps at first to keep them safe,. One option is to hire a professional caregiver to drive and do grocery shopping or enlist the help of a gardening service to keep the yard up. These services give everyone peace of mind and time to adjust and make a well-thought-out, long-term decision.