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Monday, March 5, 2012

Aging In Place? (With Addendum)

This morning, I was out running errands and drove by several newer homes, most of them large and beautiful structures with lovely landscaping. I noticed, however, that almost all of these new homes had several steps to climb at the entrance.

I thought back to the time that Mr. AOW was in the nursing home following a devastating brain hemorrhage at the age of fifty-nine. Needless to say, Mr. AOW was the youngest resident of the nursing home.

In part because most people at my husband's age do not live in a handicapped-friendly home, the social worker approached me to discuss the feasibility of bringing my husband home. She asked three specific questions:

1. "How many steps are there to get into your home?"

2. " Is there enough space for a wheelchair ramp with the proper slope from the street or driveway to the front door? Townhouses preclude your husband from wheelchair access. You may need to move to a condominium."

3. " Do you have a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor?"

Fortunately, Mr. AOW and I live in an older home — quite small, but practical. The designer-builder so long ago had the foresight to design this old house to be a lifetime residence. Therefore, I could answer all of the social worker's questions satisfactorily, that is, in a way that did not preclude my husband's return home.

Although I have often complained about the many quirks of this house in which Mr. AOW and I have lived for over thirty years, I am so grateful that my family had the wisdom to buy this old house. In fact, at the time of purchase, they had a medical reason for buying this property: my five-year-old cousin had osteogenesis imperfecta and was often laid up or on crutches. Many a time, he was confined to a hospital bed in the easily accessible, spacious living room of this old house, just as Mr. AOW is confined to a hospital bed here. Not aesthetically pleasing, of course, but practical and efficient. The kitchen is but a few steps away!

Now, back to the title of this post. If people really do plan to age in place, they should look at the design of their home with a critical eye. Otherwise, they may find themselves having to divest themselves of their home in a hurry if a medical crisis arises. Furthermore, it is a harsh fact of life that if we live long enough, each and every one of us will become disabled to one extent or another. Plan ahead — particularly in this volatile housing market.

Addendum: Also take a critical look at the bathroom doors in your home. Most bathroom doors are much narrower than other doors, and that lack of width for entry into the necessary room can cause no end of grief. Very narrow doors will not accommodate a walker or other mobility aid! This old house has a bathroom entry as wide as the other doorways. Another blessing!


  1. Great points. I had never thought of this.

  2. I have two floors and hope to be able to climb them for many years to come, but I did buy this place when I was 32 and who ever thought that I'd still own it despite owning other homes after I married Mr. Z and living in European apartments, etc?
    You are SO right...I look at those stairs sometimes with different eyes today, now that I'm much older than I was then.
    YOu make excellent points and it's definitely something for people to think about if they plan to stay there a long time, or they're buying while in their fifties, etc... thanks for that, AOW.
    I'm glad your home was just right for Mr. AOW> xx

  3. Silverfiddle and Z,
    I thought that the information I posted was important to share. One needs to make plans BEFORE the need arises.

    I need to add something to the post about bathroom doors, too. Will do that right now.

  4. I plan on croaking if my health goes bad and I become disabled. I don't have anyone to care for me, should that happen. The flip side of this is that I pay pretty close attention to my health.

    Good ideas for those who can use them, though.

  5. Good advice Always, i never thought about all that when i got my place. The doors aren't that wide here, moving all our stuff in was a bit of a pain. Unfortunately there isn't much we can do about it, there are stairs coming into the place, stairs going up. We'd have to move if one of us became disabled.

  6. Another grim subject, AOW, but important, and valuable to consider.

    I happen to have a very large house -- much more space than I properly need -- but it's very beautiful, and I enjoy it a great deal, and since I don't go anywhere, unless someone can take me, its important to me that my surroundings be agreeable. You could almost say I've made a fetish out it these past twelve years.

    The place is all on one floor, and there are no stairs, except for one step into the house from the attached garage.

    We've already used the place as a convalescent home, so it will probably be all right for me when the time comes.

    The only drawback with this place is that two of the passageways are narrow and zigzag a bit. Awkward for a wheel chair. I'd have to get rid of some precious furniture. Except for the front door and the two sets of double doors leading out onto the patio, the doorways are no more than three feet wide -- standard, but again awkward for "motor scooters" and the like.

    My next project is going to be the installation of one of those walk-in tubs with a built in Jacuzzi in the master bath. I'll have to give up a very large stall shower to do it, but the prospect of being able to sit comfortably and enjoy being submerged in a nice hot bath with whirlpool jets and not have to climb in and out of the thing is getting more attractive by the day.

    SInce there will be no one but paid companions to look after me [a HORRIBLE prospect -- they tend to be a dreary, gossipy, empty-headed, bitterly envious lot] I fancy that suicide might be a good alternative should things get so bad that I'm truly helpless.

    Ungodly? Perhaps, but I've seen too much already, and can't imagine letting myself be subjected to anything like it.

    I'm fortunate to have a decent retirement income, but it is dependent on the market, so given the rottenness of the government, naturally I am nervous about the future.

    Then too the house is only worth about half what I have in it, so selling is just not an option.

    At any rate, I plan to stay here till Kingdom Come. I do wonder, however, if "they" can FORCE you to go into a nursing home? I'd honestly rather slit my wrists and bleed to death -- or take a dose of cyanide -- than let that happen to me.

    I do wonder how I might get my hands on some cyanide pills? Not easy to come by!

    Sorry, but there comes a time when life just can't be lived anymore. When that happens, and you have no one to care for you, I truly believe it's time to say Good Bye.

    It may shock you, but I applaud the Netherlands for the way the handle this terrible issue. I do think it's enlightened.

    ~ FreeThinke

  7. Excellent advice which I wish hubby and I had considered when we bought our current home.

    We live on a steep hill, two story house, stairs everywhere outside at both entrances and one staircase inside. One downstairs bath, but as you say the door is very narrow compared to other doors. I've said many times, If I had know then what I know now about the pain of all these stairs, I'm not sure I would have moved here.

    Right Truth

  8. FT,
    Yes, a grim subject. But being prepared for the grim realities of aging as best we can is important, IMO.

    I think that almost everyone plans to age in place. But aging in place requires preparation.

    The next bathroom that I have remodeled, wherever I'm living, will definitely have to include a walk-in tub with whirlpool jets. We have a standard tub with such jets; it's a deep soaker tub, and I love it. But Mr. AOW cannot use it, of course.

    I understand what you're saying about suicide. As you said, there comes a time when life just can't be lived anymore. But is suicide moral or an offense to God? Well, that's a tough one to answer -- IF we are honest. Some years ago, one of Mr. AOW's dearest friends starved himself to death when his wife insisted upon continuing treatment in the face of late-stage MS. My own view is that any such decision is between creature and Creator.

  9. AOW, I hope I'm right in guessing you are one of Angela Lansbury's fans? It's always foolish to assume anything, but because I regard Lansbury as one of our greatest examples of growing old gracefully. [She was 87 at last count, and was still playing roles on the Broadway Stage, getting great reviews, and winning awards well into her eighties!] I can't imagine anyone not liking her.

    Anyway, the Hallmark channel presented a marathon of Murder she Wrote episodes all last weekend. Many of the stories are frankly asinine and some of the acting in many of the episodes is decidedly "hammy," but the appeal of Angela Lansbury is strong enough to overcome any defects, and it wears very very well, indeed, -- at least with me.

    SO, I wrote this yesterday. Acrostic sonnets are my specialty. I hope you enjoy it.

    Angela Lansbury

    An idyllic aunt-like figure with pizzazz,
    No one more sensible-yet-chic than she
    Gives wisdom with a bit of razzmatazz,
    Elegant, yet solid, pretense-free
    Ladylike, but always down-to-earth ––
    A reassuring presence for our time ––
    Lansbury is gracious, and her worth
    As thespian quite frankly is sublime.
    Not many can the good and bad portray
    So well, and still remain true to oneself,
    But maids, eccentrics, monstrous matrons stay
    Unsurpassed upon her credits’ shelf.
    Remember Mame and Sweeney Todd? We do!
    Yet, for “Aunt Jess” our love stays strong and true.

    ~ FreeThinke

  10. I would never had thought about a single one of those.

    And, isn't it great how your place just worked out perfectly for your needs?

  11. FT,
    I love Angela Lansbury!

    I have seen every episode of Murder, She Wrote and watched those episodes again in reruns -- although not lately.

    Quite a nice acrostic sonnet. Difficult to write for most of us. I don't have the flair for writing poetry, but, strangely, I am able to teach my students to do so.

    I haven't posted any of my students' work for a long time, but HERE is an index to my students' work at my previous web site. There is at least one sonnet in that list.

    Back to Angela Lansbury....Remember her in Gaslight?

  12. Matt,
    We almost sold this place back in 2005-2007. Now, I'm glad that the deal feel through!

    The other house to which we had planned to move would have worked out for Mr. AOW, but not without extensive remodeling.

    If we ever do sell this place, we'll have time between the contract and the move (at least 1.5 years as we will likely sell to a developer) to get the necessary modifications done over there. Indeed, some things have already been done at the other house as my cousins, who are living there, are aging too.

  13. Good points and I have thought about this in my home because it is not set up properly for an older/disabled person.

    Good news is I think it could be adapted with some work when the need arises. It will arise too because me and my wife have decided this is it for us, were home.

  14. Wisdom often comes so late in life. I guess it's human nature to believe nothing bad will ever happen to us or our loved ones. I hope your words open a lot of eyes, AOW

  15. No, I hadn't thought of many of these things, but perhaps now is a good time to begin to begin to address them... before they have become "urgent" yet "altogether necessary" alterations.

  16. I actually thought of the handicap when seeing so many huge beautiful homes with all these steps to the front doors and couldn't fathom why someone would want that? And another thing that deterred me was there was no way I would be climbing up and down those steps with groceries, because some of these homes, didn't have garages.

  17. I live in a four story house with an out house ... we're covered.

  18. While I agree these concerns ought to be considered, I also remember that every single Brownstone House in New York City had a pretty long flight of stone or concrete steps leading from the street to the entrance.

    Most Victorian houses had big front porches that included a flight of several wooden steps. Almost all houses built before the 1950's were at least two storeys often with the only one toilet located upstairs -- and that meant to serve the needs of a large family.

    If you've ever been to San Francisco you would immediately see that no one unable to climb stairs could survive there for so much as a weekend.

    And then there are all those quaint, beautiful European cities where most of the historic architecture was hardly constructed with invalidism in mind.

    How did our ancestors manage to get through their lives without seeming to be much concerned with these potential problems?

    I've had a sneaking suspicion that with the arrival of industrialization, the automobile, "automation," TV and the computer, the human race has been steadily weakening in its ability to withstand the rigors of physical activity once considered a normal part of everyone's daily routine.

    Just a thought ...

    ~ FreeThinke

  19. By the way, they didn't even HAVE nursing homes in earlier times, yet somehow life went on.

    Do you really think all the modern "conveniences" we've devised have made life all that much better for the average person?

    Somehow, I doubt it. I'm old enough to remember the world before TV came into it. BELIEVE me, it was kinder, gentler, more cheerful, energetic, sociable place.

    ~ FT

  20. Oh, and AOW, I certainly do remember Lansbury in Gaslight. She was only SEVENTEEN when she made that film. I believe she celebrated her eighteenth birthday in the middle of the shooting.

    That film was made the year I was born, and here I am - definitely a senior citizen -- and Ms. Lansbury, who is old enough to have been my mother, -- is still going strong, God love her.

    Nancy, the serving girl in Gaslight, was the "maid" I referred to in the acrostic sonnet. There was a great deal of depth in Lansbury's portrayal of Nancy -- you could see amorality, selfishness, callous disregard for others and a certain slyness -- a low cunning -- in Nancy -- a very unpleasant young woman. Astonishing that a 17-year-old beginner could project all that with such subtlety. No wonder the young Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award that year.

    ~ FT

  21. About all those stairs and nursing homes....

    I think that a couple of factors came into play.

    1. People didn't live as long. That is, medicine didn't save people who wouldn't be functional if they lived on. Those that were severely disabled and "bedfast," as my great-grandfather was for some 10 years, were confined to the house and used bedpans. In fact, I still have that old bedpan. Somewhere. It is a combination bed pan and urinal (for a man). Porcelain covered.

    2. Women didn't work outside the home, so there were "built-in caregivers," who actually viewed the task as an honor and part of family responsibility. Furthermore, homes weren't single-family in the sense that we have today. Rather, the extended family lived in "the homeplace."

    3. Those with dementia either wandered off and died in the woods OR ended up confined in a state mental institution (the latter the case with my paternal grandfather).

    4. Churches did offer a kind of nursing home. Furthermore, church members pitched in to help caring for the elderly.

    Just a few thoughts before I shut off the computer and head off to work.

    Have a good day, FT!

  22. We downsized a few years ago, then upsized to give our children (all of whom live out of state) a more comfortable visit when they are here. We have stairs now, and I use them as a part of my "healthy lifestyle" plan:-), but I do not have to use them unless I want too.

    However, the day will come, and finally in my community we are seeing homes designed for aging in place. I won't have a problem moving when the time comes, other than when all the kids are here at one time, they may have to have a hotel room:-(

    Not having your children close has consequences.


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