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Home is Where the Heart Is (Alternative Housing)

by Betty Soldz

The choice that we make about where to live as we grow older will affect the rest of our lives.  Although most of us would like to remain in our home because it is a link to the past, our neighborhood and community,  it is not always the best alternative.  However, having said that, to seek other housing is a major decision requiring much thought as to what is to be gained or lost. 
      One way to help in deciding what to do is to make a list of reasons to stay in your home and then make a second list of the advantages to selecting alternative housing.  Start by considering the financial advantages of staying or moving. Consider transportation needs now and in the future, location of friends, nearness to doctors, shopping and social activities, etc.
      The attachment to our home makes it extremely hard to consider moving so our first option may be to propose modifying the home in order to be more accommodating to us as we age.  Modifications can be made which will make our homes safer and more accessible.  In some homes it is possible to convert an entry level room into a bedroom or have an electric chair lift installed.  If the structure permits it, we can make such changes as building ramps and widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair. Grab bars added where needed, extra lights installed in dark areas, and the picking up of throw rugs can all add significantly to the safety of your house.
      If you cannot afford to stay in your home there is, in addition,  the option of home sharing.  If zoning laws permit, you might add-on or renovate in order to include a rental apartment or rooms within your existing home.  If this is not possible, you might consider sharing the home with another one or two persons.  Having others around can create a sense of security as well as help with home payments. If that course of action is not workable, moving to a condominium, apartment, mobile home or town house might be less expensive and offer greater safety.
       As women grow older,  they may want to consider other alternatives. If one decides moving is best, there are many options to choose from which will be determined by age, health and finances.  The following information on the types of senior housing available may help with your decision.
      Soon after retiring, some women choose to move to a planned retirement community which is usually aimed at the younger or more active retirees.  The best known of these are the Sun City and Rossmoor communities.  Although some of these communities are adding an assisted living component, many contain only single family homes, town houses and condominiums for those who can live independently.  In these developments,  much of the attention is on social activities and sports. One of the advantages of such a community is that one can live independently but still not have to be responsible for such chores as yard upkeep.  Many of these communities provide transportation to the grocery, malls and entertainment. Many have exercise facilities, swimming pools and community activity buildings for various classes and meetings.
      In some areas of the country,  independent living facilities  may be in large apartment buildings for seniors and the disabled only. Although such facilities vary, many only provide a segregated living situation for seniors while others may offer a variety of services such as meals, housekeeping, activities, transportation and a security system.  These are usually rentals and some are federally subsidized for seniors with low incomes. The advantage to this type of housing is mainly one of security but many women would prefer a more multigenerational environment.
      When a person needs assistance with medication, bathing and dressing,  an Assisted Living Facility can be considered.  These facilities are for seniors who have no serious nursing needs but nevertheless find it difficult to take care of themselves.  An Assisted Living Facility often resembles a  large apartment building; many have one or even two bedroom apartments although there are some that only have private rooms. Although many of these apartments have private kitchens,  meals are usually served in congregate dining rooms.  Available services typically might include meals, housekeeping, transportation, laundry services, assistance with taking medication and help with daily tasks such as bathing.  Expenses at facility so described may cost from $1500 to $4500 per month so you would need to understand what services will be provided, by whom (licensed nurse?), staffing ratio, etc.  To be sure you will be comfortable with your choice, it is suggested that you visit the facility several times and at different times of the day before making a decision.  Most facilities will invite you for lunch which will afford you an idea as to whether you will enjoy the dining room and the quality of the food.  Take time to meet the staff and some of the women and men who live there as well as to explore the recreational activities that are offered.  The advantage of this type of housing is safety and assistance.  However, when you are no longer ambulatory this type of facility may not be structured to allow you to continue to live there.  This will depend on how the facility is licensed by the state.
      Another type of housing that may interest women as they grow older is a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).   In such a facility a resident may live independently in an apartment so long as they are able.  Should their situation change, they are guaranteed access to the facility's assisted living and nursing home services. The advantage of  Continuing Care Retirement Communities is that they guarantee, by contract, that they will take care of residents for the rest of their lives. Another advantage is the chance to make new friends, avoid isolation and be free from having to shop, cook or clean. If you move into a CCRC with your spouse the advantage would be the ability of such a facility to provide different levels of care needed by each of you.   Perhaps one of you needs nursing home or assisted living care but the other can still live independently.  Then, this kind of  facility would provide an advantage to your situation because it could meet both of your needs. The disadvantage may be that there is usually a large entrance fee that has to be met initially. In additon, there is  a monthly fee which is to cover the three congregate meals most of these facilities serve, plus housekeeping services, parking and any recreational activities provided. When assistance with the activities of daily living or nursing home care is needed, this will be provided to you but your fees will probable increase as you need additional help.  Before signing a contract with such a facility, it would be prudent to have the contract read by an attorney. Don't hesitate to check on the current financial status of the facility by asking  for a financial statement;  have an attorney or accountant look it over.
      Life care is similar to continuing care but has a fixed fee contract and requires the facility to care for a person until the end of their life.   The advantage is the security of knowing the exact cost of your housing and care and knowing that it won't increase when assistance is needed.   The disadvantage of both CCRC and Life Care Facilities is that they are expensive and involve a long term commitment. For this reason you should be sure that you are comfortable with such options and, again, this is a case where an attorney should examine the entrance contract before you sign it.
      The last type of housing some of us will need is a Nursing Home.  How to investigate and choose a Nursing Home will be addressed in a future article.
      Because women are living to such an old age,  it is important to investigate all the options, visit these facilities and test your comfort level.  Make a decision before an emergency arises.  While some women do very well remaining in their own homes, others feel more comfortable in a more secure environment.  One alternative I did not include was moving in with your children.  This is a possibility for some but I urge you to carefully consider how this will affect you as well as your children.  Most of the women I have worked with have said this is not an option they would care to exercise.  Many women today are very independent and hope to remain that way. They feel that such an arrangement would hinder their independence or could even harm their relationship with their children. Only you can make the decision as to what is best.  However, you can only make a wise decision after investigating all the possibilities. 



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