Maryland Aging in Community

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Making a Safe and Welcoming Home

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The following Guest Blog Writer shares some of the home modification and other preparations made by his family.

As a member of HomePorts, a Village in Chestertown Maryland, he says, “I am sharing my plans in the hopes it will help other seniors.”

HOW  I  AM  PLANNING  TO  GROW  OLD

IMG_0471Seven years ago I saw a quote that impressed me, “People do not plan to fail, they fail to plan.” That year my wife and I started planning for our future. We moved from a ten room house that needed work, six miles from town, to a six room one story house in town. A great house in which to grow old, but after a careful check we made a number of changes before moving in.

There were two high steps to the entrance into the kitchen from a carport, so we had a deck built over them with a bench and two easier steps, plus a railing. It was planned so that we can have a ramp built over the steps at some time in the future. The bench has proven to be most helpful for delivery drivers and the mail man to leave their packages.  Even though there was a front door, this became our main entrance.

The washer and dryer were in the basement, but though I was only 82 and my wife three years younger, we decided that carrying the laundry up and down would be an accident waiting to happen. Everything in the bathroom needed to be updated, so the bathtub was replaced by a shower and an over/under washer and dryer.  A modern toilet and sink were installed and several grab bars were placed in strategic spots in the bathroom and shower, and they have saved me from a fall several times.

Three years after moving, my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With support from our two children living fairly close, and some assistance from home health aides, I was able to care for her at home for three years.

However, after I developed health problems the children and I, with advice from a Geriatric Case Manager, decided that her best option was to move to an Assisted Living Home in Rock Hall. Fortunately, to prepare for this possibility, I had visited several AL Homes a year earlier and there was an opening in one. Although she does not remember where she is she still knows us and enjoys our regular visits. We are pleased knowing that she is well cared for in a home atmosphere. When I cannot take care of myself, I hope to join her.

Thoughtful questions for our readers:

What we have heard among leaders of Maryland Villages as the motivation for founding a new Village program arises from several needs. Often they express a strong connection to a beloved town, a specific neighborhood full of friends, or being near a part of nature like the Chesapeake Bay. Gardeners in particular are loathe to leave their plot of heaven-and many treasure the intergenerational connections and friendship they have in neighbors. Some who are founders of Villages started with the idea of freedom and independence for all seniors in their area so there would be an alternative choice to relocation to a typical one level living two bedroom condo in a seniors-only assisted living location.

Whatever the initial motivation for making a plan to age in community intrepid Village joiners have been creative about exploring options. As leaders begin the process of learning as much as they can there is a dramatic increase in awareness about resources for older adults. Most wise Village members learn that proper planning is critical, and also soon realize that there is a great deal of variation about how prepared friends and neighbors might be for their own aging. For many people it is the process of joining a Village that initiates a deeper level of contemplation and planning. Once you determine that you wish to find an option for living with a great deal of freedom, then slowly you begin to address what might come next as you face other aspects and complications of aging.     Then you bemoan the fact there is no full bath on your main living level! For other individuals the need to plan for more support comes suddenly -is a reaction to personal health crisis or a caregiving need of one’s spouse when a hospital bed is placed in your dining room.

What does “home “ mean to you?

How attached are you to the place where you live now?

For some, home is the perfect house, perhaps designed and built by you. For others a house and large lawn might be something you would be glad to be finished maintaining!     The actual “meaning of home” can be quite tender for each of us. As adults we make our home in many ways, some move often with jobs requiring frequent relocation, so strong feelings for a house or yard maybe has less attachment, then a friend who has had the same residence for 30 years when retirement nears.

Most of us have images, scents and tastes that conjure up what “home” means to us from our childhood and from various parts of our life. My childhood home had a beautiful maple tree resplendent in autumn, and a red rose bush that wound around the fence next to the front walkway, as an adult I still miss the home I lost with a fireplace. But can a place still be a home if it is inaccessible to you once you have mobility impairments?

Many never consider the changes that might emerge in the next phase or stage of life. Some of us are natural planners, others live in a more spontaneous manner.   However at some point folks who lean towards being prepared, we older girl scouts and boy scouts, and those who have worked in gerontology know it is time to get more organized for what comes next. For many leaders of Villages we have met the awareness that planning is an important task-shows up when one takes on responsibility for caregiving an older parent with serious health concerns. Suddenly an adult child has to address these decisions for a vulnerable parent and begins to wonder how they might become better prepared. Then the idea of ones “heart home” and the possibility of leaving it or adapting it arises.

Most of the Maryland Village programs offer frequent educational discussions and lectures or referrals to meet with a planning professional that help can help foster this planning. Finances play a part, what can you afford to do to make your current home suitable for advanced age? Do you have resources to hire paid helpers? Does your town have one level living options that are affordable and near to you? Much is learned around the informal coffee klatches or through the kitchen table wisdom and knowledge exchanged among trusted friends, other information is gathered form reading, websites, paid professional advice.

MIght you have insights to share? What have you learned that might be useful to others in Maryland who are passionate about aging in place? How have you prepared for potential age-related changes in your mobility or health that might necessitate a change in your home? Have you already made similar structural home modifications? What did you find useful in this process of examining home modifications? In additions to changes in the household have you discussed other care alternatives that might emerge in terms of behavioral or health concerns like memory loss? If you consider resources like relocation to Assisted living have you taken steps to visit some programs near to you?

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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