How my family helped our mom stay in her home as long as she wanted….
When asked, about 90% of elders will say that they don't want to go to any kind of "home" as they get older 1. They want to stay in their own homes. But, as I tell my children, “want” does not mean “need” and allowing your loved one the time to realize when they “need” to move out of their home might be the best thing you can do.
When my father died at age 95, my mother, six years his junior, was left alone in their six-bedroom Victorian-era home on several acres. They had raised their family of eight children in this home, three of which settled nearby with their families. We were all worried about my mom alone in this house, which had uneven floors, various types of throw rugs, and a never-ending list of repairs and maintenance needs as well as a yard and gardens which required much tending. She assured us that she would be “fine” and asked, “Who would take care of this place if I moved out?” But she was also a realist, as she had always been, and agreed to look around at senior housing options in the area.
During this time, I and my seven siblings were concerned about her health and safety in the home alone. We understood that she was still of relatively sound mind and that the decision to move out of her home was hers to make. So, we decided to implement some protective measures to provide her, and us, with peace of mind. These included:
- installing security cameras at both main entrances to the home that we could monitor remotely
- installing a security system that would alert us when someone would enter the home without disabling it.
- purchasing a wearable emergency call device for her that would alert EMS should she fall or have a sudden health event.
- installing the Alexa echo device for her so we could talk to her face to face with the tap of our phones.
Each of these measures was extremely valuable in giving my mom the time she needed to experience living alone and to determine if remaining there was the best option for her.
Within a year after my father’s passing, several events occurred that caused my mom to decide it would be best for her to move. The first was when she fell outside in the yard and was rescued by the EMS who she alerted with her wearable device. The second was when she let a stranger selling roof repairs into her home and paid him for the repairs he recommended. These events were scary for her and made her realize that she might not be able to care for herself after all.
Several of her friends were living in a senior assisted living community in my mom’s town and my mom decided to move there. Not only did she have several friends at her new home, she became reacquainted with high school classmates from long ago. My mom became her own woman again.
Despite moving in during covid lockdown, she seemed relieved and was finally, after 70 years, unburdened of home and yard responsibilities. She said of her new two-room apartment, “It’s perfect, it has everything I need,” which made me wonder what she really thought of the house she had lived in for most of her life with its thirteen rooms and five bathrooms, all chalk-full of the remnants of the ten people that lived there for decades.
She was able to enjoy her new life…. for sixteen months when, before breakfast one morning, her 92-year-old heart beat its last beat.
I realize we were lucky that my mom was so agreeable and realistic in deciding to move. However, I also know that implementing measures to allow her the time she needed to make her own decision was the best thing we could have done.
1 University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center and NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, 2019. Rural Aging In Place Toolkit [online] Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/toolkits/aging
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