Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aging in Place

Mother and I take time for a photograph
as we visited a peach orchard in Grand Junction

This weekend while I was visiting my mother in Grand Junction, Colorado, I learned a new term when I read an article on aging in a special section of the Daily Sentinel.  The term "aging in place" is one I had somehow missed reading about, or hearing about, before I read this particular article.  "Wow," I think to myself, how did I miss seeing this term before?  Since learning this new term, I learned it is the name of an organization and that there is a web site by the same name.

So what does this term mean?  According to the home page of this term means the following:  "Aging in place” refers to living where you have lived for years, typically not in a health care environment, using products, services, and conveniences which allow you to remain home as circumstances change. In other words, you continue to live in the home of your choice safely and independently as you get older."

Now, just because I hadn't heard the term, it doesn't mean I was well aware of the concept and its implications to all of us as we get older.  My mother is 95 years old and she has been aging in the same place where she currently lives for over 30 years.  She and my father moved to the Western Slope of Colorado in the 70's.  They loved the place and decided it would be where they would stay even after my father retired.  This decision was certainly theirs to make, but the decision has meant that they have never lived near their children and grandchildren.  As my parents aged, and after my father passed away, the decision of aging in place has meant that it is a challenge to visit the place where my parents chose to live so many years ago.

My husband and I also live a distance from all our children.  While I'm not always happy with this fact, I am mostly happy with where we live.  I am not ready or willing to move for a number of reasons.

For the past few years, my daughters in particular have made comments to me such as, "Why do you need this big house?  Why do you need this big yard?  There are only two of you.  You don't need this house anymore.  Why don't you move closer to your kids?  Why do you have to live so far away?"  I find myself feeling a bit entrenched.  I feel that I must go on the defensive.  "Yes, we need this house.  We like to get away from each other.  Its big enough to allow this."  The rebuttal, "Really.  You each need your own office.  Why?  Neither of you are even working anymore.  It is silly that you each have a big office."  I dig in my heels.  "I'm not giving up my office, and I sure as @#)) am not sharing one with Jim."  I realize that I am starting my own argument for "aging in place."  I realize that I am having the same discussions with my children that I wanted to have with my parents.  I come from the generation where we didn't question our parents decisions quite so much as my children seem to do today.

As I said before, my mother is 95.  She doesn't seem that old.  She just still seems like my mom.  I see my own aging.  I see that she is getting shorter and shorter.  I see that she takes a cane when she leaves the house, but she is still just as sharp as she ever was.  She doesn't miss a thing.  She is up on everything.  She takes care of her house and cooks her meals.  She laughs at a good joke.  She even still wear shorts!  (And her legs and feet still look pretty darn good  She is proud to note that she doesn't have old lady feet.)  To me, she seems ageless.  

But on the other hand, she has aged.  She will age again this coming year.  Aging in place means that decisions still must be made so that one has the support need to accomplish this decision well.  

I'm still wrestling with what that means for my mother and her wish to stay where she lives, and what that means for my husband and myself as we choose to live where we do as we age.  I was deeply moved by a post that Jim Burke had on his blog today.  Jim Burke, my guru on how to teach English well, spoke of giving permission today in his blog where he is writing about "senior moments."  

We, my children, my mother, and my husband and I are all moving in a continuum of life.  We are all in different seasons.  We can't make decisions for each other.  We must give each other, and ourselves, permission to listen to each other.  This keeps us from becoming entrenched, alone, stuck in place.    

 "We must give ourselves permission to look for and listen to those who know the territory ahead, whose voices can assure us we will make it through to the other side of this season where the days fall like leaves too many to catch. We must give ourselves permission to still listen to ourselves and to live out all those stories we have told but not yet lived."  Jim Burke

On this, the last day of August, I am very aware of the seasons and passing from one season to the next.  

I recognize that I am moving, have been moving,  into the autumn of my life while I watch my mother in the winter of her life.  I hope we can learn from each other.  


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

A beautiful post full of insight, Sally. Your mother looks and sounds wonderful for 95. I know it's a worry when an aging parent lives at a distance. Aunt Molly lived about 100 miles from us when we still lived in California, but she loved her home and her garden and it was her greatest wish to stay there the rest of her life. We did a lot of commuting in her last years -- but it was a joy to still have her with us and to have her enjoying the last years of her life. I agree with you, by the way, about needing your own office. You know, a lot of people downsize their homes in retirement, but Bob and I bought a house nearly twice the size of our old one. Now that we're home all the time with each other, we each need our space -- thus the larger home!

Lynilu said...

What a beautiful post.

These are issues I've considered before. My kids are scattered on both coasts and in the Midwest, and I really don't like being so far apart, but we all live where we do for good reasons. And I've been clear to my kids that I will remain here until I go out feet first or they lead me babbling incoherently. As much as I love them, this is my home, where my heart thrives.

I'd always hoped to live near my mom once again and be there to enjoy each other in her older years, but Alzheimer's took care of that dream. What I learned from that experience is that we should do what makes up happy for as long as we can; you just never know......

Carry on. And follow your heart.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

What a wonderful post, Sally... I love it!!!!! Yes--we all are aging --and we are definitely 'aging in place'.... Love it!!!!

My Mom died at 91... I'm so glad that you still have your Mom and that she is still so healthy.

Linda Myers said...

Our kids live all over the country. The ones who live closest may be moving further away. We're still living in our family home, still love it, and are thinking about how it can be adapted to our needs as they change.

We've even talked to our young neighbors about trading houses with us when we can no longer manage stairs, if we can't change the stairs into something doable.

We love our community and intend to stay here.

gigihawaii said...

Very nicely written. I think the only way hubby and I will leave our home is if we develop dementia. Forgetting to turn off the stove or leaving the faucet on because we have lost our memory leads to dangerous consequences. We will have to move to a nursing home at that time, and I hope we don't put up a fight.

Dee Ready said...

Thank you, Sally, for this posting today and for inviting us to look at the blog of your writing guru.

After living for 38 years in Minnesota, I came "home" to Missouri two years ago. I thought that being with my brother and his family was the "right" thing to do now that I'm in my seventies. The "safe" thing to do. The "sane" thing to do.

But what I've discovered is that home resides within me. In the past two years, I have "come home to myself." I am at peace with all I have been and with all I have become.

And so I'm returning to Minnesota and kindred souls and lakes and parks and an ambience that is the home where I feel most myself.

Thank you for reminding me that we all need to do this. Peace.

Linda Reeder said...

I called my mother last night, as I do every Wednesday. Among other things, we talked of her wanting to make the final move, out of this life. She's 89.5, and while she will most likely make it to 90, she is done. Her eyes, ears, hands and feet fail her. She feels useless. Last spring she gave up on 'aging in place', reluctantly, and now ages in an assisted living place. She needs the help they give her.
She didn't move away, but all of her kids did, so now the closest is two hours away.
As you can tell, you post today was timely for me. This is a topic much on my mind. My daughter and her family are in the process of establishing their lives back here in Seattle after living for ten years in Colorado. I have a feeling that they would like to return to this house some day, when we no longer need it. But for now we do need this big house. This home and garden are much of the story of our life together. It is where we are who we are. We will stay a while yet. We'll just see what the next ten years brings.

Jeanie said...

A very thoughtful and well written post, Sally. I haven't had to deal with aging parents since mine both died when I was young, but I do worry about how my aging will inpact my children. I am very grateful that (as of now) they are close, but I don't want to become a problem for them as I get older.
I fully understand why you want to keep a larger house.

DJan said...

I love this post, Sally. It's full of wisdom and introspection. We have no parents (my husband or me) to worry about being close to. It's been since 1993 that my mom died, and she was the last one.

In this day of super connection, I talk with my sister or brother on video chat, and it's almost like being there. Yesterday we spent two hours catching up, and I feel like I've just seen her. I did! I hope you stick to your guns and do what is right for YOU.

Arkansas Patti said...

This is a well done post on a subject I really haven't thought about.
I tend to move about and really don't have a "place". I envy people who have a place they don't want to leave.
I have been here for 7 years and recently have fond my eyes furtively casting about for another place. Think it was my gypsy like upbringing.

Beth said...

An excellent post. I am so happy for you that your mother is still living and that you can spend some time together.
I lived with my husband in the same little town for 50 years. One child in Chicago and one in the Peoria area. I stayed in the same house for 3 1/2 years after my husband died. Last year, even though I had wonderful friends, I sold my home and moved to the city my daughter lives in.

KathyA said...

Lots of food for thought. My husband and I have decided we will not be 'aging in place' but will move to a retirement community. We've decided this for a number of reasons. One is that his parents are aging and ill and insisting they need no help -- unrealistic as they both do -- and they've placed that responsibility on him -- an only child. We won't do that to our kids. My mom lives in a wonderful community where she at 86 is surrounded by friends and extremely active and I've seen the marked difference between her and my in-laws.

Grandmother said...

I appreciate your wisdom and thank you for raising these issues. My 95 year old Dad is aging in place, supported by his town's senior services and great neighbors. Bless him. I've lived all over, including a venture in international living in Italy. It fits me well at this time and leads to grand adventures. I'm staying open to what may come as the next right step and am intrigued as to what that might be.

Isabelle said...

Really interesting. I live in the same place I've always lived but now two of our three children have moved away. I'd move near them in a moment if they were all in the same place (one's north, one's south and the third's here) and I thought they were settled where they are. But I would miss all my friends.

Thisisme. said...

Very interesting post today. My goodness, your mum looks terrific for 95, and how marvellous that she can still live in her own home and still cooks her own meals etc. It's not so bad getting older if you can keep as healthy as that. You're right, with each passing season, we are aware of ourselves getting older. I suppose I would be in the autumn of my life. I am just so thankful that I still have the health to be able to do all the things I love to do. I wish that my mum was still around.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

We used to say we were in this house to stay. But in quiet moments we've admitted that if we can't handle stairs any longer, or the place gets to be just too much, we might have to move. I hadn't heard the term "aging in place" but I guess it makes sense!

#1Nana said...

Lots to think about with this post. We've also had discussions about where to live, but moving to be closer to children when there is no guarantee that they will stay where they are forever doesn't make sense to me. They have no plans to move, but that doesn't mean they won't have a job change or circumstances won't force a move. I don't see myself constantly moving around following them. It would be nice if all seniors had the resources and access to services that allow them to age in place.

Olga said...

-This was so thoughtful and thought provoking. I like my house, but I already know it is not the place I want to expend energy on for all time. I will, however, need space.
-Your mom looks great and so you have been blessed with good aging genes.
-It seems to me that your family has a closeness that is beyond geography and that is a treasure in itself.

Joanne said...

This is such a beautiful post! Four years ago I begged my Mom to move closer to me. She was alone and starting to regress a bit. Her neighborhood was changing and it was no longer safe for her anymore. She moved into a little apartment just about 1 minute drive from me. It has been a big change here and I seem to be her only friend and she is completely dependent on me to even go out side. It has been a sometimes heartbreaking but mostly heartwarming change as she and my own children become closer.You are so blessed to have a Mom who is so independent. My Mom often thinks about her old apartment and I know she misses it. I feel at times guilty for her having to move, but my sadness is quelled when she adds " But now I am closer to you and the kids!" Very thought provoking post.

Blessings, Joanne

KleinsteMotte said...

Your mom looks great. And peaches all aroung. Beautiful.
The aging and where to pass one's years is on many minds. Planning for it is not as advanced here as in Europe. The concept of staying in place is great but costly too. yet there's a potential for many new jobs if some training is given. We are a huge aging group at the moment.

Deb Shucka said...

Thank you, Sally, for allowing me to learn from you. This is such an insightful and lovely post. Walt and I have had many conversations over the years about this being our last home and what it will be like to live here as we age. Autumn is definitely a time to consider all these changes that bring us closer to our mortality. You've given me much to reflect on here.

Cape Cod Kitty said...

So beautifully said, Sally. Your mother is amazing and a treasure!
Almost everyone I've known who has moved as part of retirement, is miserable! I sure hope to continue aging on this hallowed spit of sand.

Jeanie said...

This is a tremendously thought-provoking post and one that applies to me. I may have lived in a few spots in the city, but I've always lived here -- when I bought my house in 1995, I thought, "I could live here the rest of my life." I feel the same about the cottage, and our original family cottage down the way where my cousins are. There is so much history wrapped in those spots that no matter where one lived, that was home. This past weekend I spent time with my mother's best childhood friend, now 92, and still living on the lake. Again in place brings with it a rich legacy of tangible history -- and I don't know you can beat that.