reaction was “He can’t live alone.” How could he
manage without her? She was his companion in the house
they bought the year after they married nearly sixty years
ago. A typical homemaker from the 50s era, she cooked for
him, washed the laundry, managed the finances, later drove
him where he needed to go, and did a hundred other things.
Dad couldn’t live alone primarily because the stroke he
suffered nearly 15 years ago resulted in major right side
weakness. During the ensuing years, he began to depend
upon a leg brace and cane to walk and he gradually lost most
of the use of his right hand. He reluctantly gave up
driving two years ago. And we knew he would be lonely.
So we began
visiting local senior citizen and assisted living complexes,
thinking they would provide not only the basic necessities
like his meals and clean laundry, but more importantly,
companionship and social interaction as well. Our plan
was to narrow the choices to three, give him the opportunity
to visit all three and let him decide where to live.
we visited were bright and clean, some livelier than others,
with lots of seniors living in them. They were filled
mostly with women, because women tend to live longer than
men. It became clear that, despite his physical handicap,
Dad was far too well for an assisted living facility.
However, one of the problems with many of the senior
apartment complexes (as well as assisted living facilities)
was their sheer size – the walk to the dining room would
exhaust him. And, he would be moving in with complete
began to dawn on us that maybe Dad could stay in his own
we discovered he had a network of friends in his
neighborhood who were visiting him regularly, walking with
him, and bringing him things like a plant for the front
porch, a pumpkin in the fall, a meal or a dessert.
his home, we realized it was a manageable size at about
1,200 square feet, and Dad knew every inch of it. We
just needed to make it as safe and convenient as possible
for him, so he could live independently.
measure of comfort for everyone was the alarm Dad agreed to
wear. He can press the button if he needs assistance,
and the monitoring company calls one of his children and
sends EMS immediately.
and most important change, was the bathroom renovation.
Because of his right side weakness, Dad can’t maneuver his
leg to get into the tub to shower, so he would go down
stairs to the basement where there was a walk-in shower.
That was a terrible accident waiting to happen.
We hired a
contractor who was certified by the National Association of
Home Builders as an aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) to
rebuild the first-floor bathroom. He installed a
walk-in shower with grab bars and a hand-held shower; new
lighting; and made the doorway, vanity and toilet wheelchair
accessible, if that need ever comes up in the future.
to the grab bars in the bathroom, the contractor installed
several throughout the house after Dad and an occupational
therapist walked through it to identify the places where he
needed them the most. The contractor jokes he could
use Dad’s house as a “grab bar showroom” for his other
has been an outstanding ally. At our request, he got
Dad into physical therapy for a “tune-up” and he had an
occupational therapist evaluate the house – all so Dad could
continue to live there independently.
Dad can cook
breakfast – he makes a mean omelet one-handed with
“Eggbeaters” – and manages lunch and dinner, but we knew
he’d appreciate meals he didn’t have to prepare, especially
home-cooked ones. “Meals on Wheels” was a possibility,
but we were particularly fortunate to find a neighbor who
was very willing to prepare dinner for Dad three nights a
week for a small fee. We pop in with a meal now and
then, as do his other neighbors, and there’s no shortage of
desserts delivered to his door.
step was to brighten up the house with new carpeting and a
fresh coat of paint. And just before the first
snowfall, Dad had a natural gas insert installed in his
fireplace in the family room. Years ago he would build
roaring fires everyone would sit around, and later, it would
be just he and mom after the kids moved out. Within
the last several years, however, they didn’t have any fires,
because it became too difficult for him to carry in the wood
and mind the fire.
Now in the
evenings, he sits in his chair and hits the remote, not just
for the television, but to turn on the fireplace – and
regulate the height of the flames. We’re not sure
which the better investment was: the renovated bathroom or
the fireplace insert.
horizon is a DVD player so he can watch M*A*S*H reruns and
other programs and movies he so enjoys. And he’s on
the waiting list for “Honor Flight” next year, a program
that transports World War II veterans to see their memorial
in Washington, D.C.
in Place in America” research study, commissioned by Clarity
and The EAR Foundation and released in October 2007, showed
that the vast majority of senior citizens want to age in
place, or grow older without having to move from their
homes. In fact, senior citizens fear the loss of
independence and moving out of their home into a nursing
home far more than death.
have been a big mistake to move our father. Even with
limited physical mobility, he stills enjoys his independence
in his own home. His house is safe and
comfortable, and he has a support network that includes his
children, neighbors, doctors and the wonders of technology.
And, there are myriad other private care agencies to help us
should we need to call on them in the future.