Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Our Home in Old Age

There comes a time when we cannot work.  

Not just "don't want to."  Not "quiet quitting," or whatever the term is now for hardly working rather than working hard.

But actually not being able to perform the tasks that any job requires.  When our bodies no longer allow us to stand and move around, and our minds struggle to hold on to short-term memories, there's just no way for us to participate in the rush and bustle of the daily grind.  The arrival of that season varies from person to person, but it comes for all of us.

When it happens, there are implications.  How do we put a roof over our balding and/or silvery heads?

For the wealthy and the propertied, there are buffers and protections.  I've seen this in my own family, and in my circle of family friends.  One good friend from the church where I grew up has moved in with her children, and to facilitate this built a comfortable, accessible addition to their home.  Another did the same thing to the home she and her husband lived in during their adult years, creating a "wing" to their house with wide doors, open and accessible bathrooms, and an elevator.  These were wise uses of the resources of worldly wealth, but most Americans don't have that option.

For those who do not have retirement savings?  Paying for our living space grows harder and harder as we lose the ability to care for ourselves.  The long-term care that is necessary to keep us in our homes as we age isn't covered by Medicare, and private long-term care insurance is both expensive and challenging to negotiate.  

Things can get really difficult, really quickly.   

During the many years I delivered for Meals on Wheels, I over and over again encountered elderly folk who were struggling to make a go of it in their homes by themselves.  Some were managing, mostly with the support of neighbors, younger friends, and nearby family.  Others were clearly past the point where they could handle life by themselves, so physically and mentally compromised that being in their home was a burden.  Those were the homes filled with piles of unopened mail and neglected possessions, the occupant either confined to a chair or obviously non compos mentis.  They were relying on home aide support that was insufficient, or had no real help at all.

Most of us prefer to stay in our homes as we age, because it's a reassuringly familiar space.  But those same homes can become a shadow place, a place filled only with the echoes of our former life.

And the 20% of elderly Americans who don't own their own homes?

Sudden surges in home prices drive up rents, and then, well, then what do you do?  "Camping" really isn't the most pleasant of options when you're young, but when can't really even walk on your own?  It's even less so. 

Medicaid does provide for nursing care for those who have exhausted their resources, but access to those nursing homes homes was never easy, and has gotten harder post-pandemic.  With a significant shortage of rooms, particularly in rural areas, those who find themselves physically unable to care for themselves can be stuck in hospitals.

It's a challenge more and more will face, as our population becomes grayer.