The Decision To Move or Age in Place


by Jeannine Bryant

I recently sat with a woman who was in the midst of a difficult decision – whether or not to downsize and move.  She and her husband had lived in their beautiful home for 20 years, and absolutely loved it.  They had lovingly designed it to their specifications, including lots of gorgeous built-ins and lovely furnishings selected with the help of their interior designer.  The place was beautiful.

They were growing older, and many of their peers were making the move to independent retirement communities, and they knew that such a move made sense for them, on paper.  Their current townhome was quite large, and the stairs were getting to be more and more of a challenge for the woman’s husband.  They didn’t need all this space, but they enjoyed having it.  Something about the transition just wasn’t sitting right. They didn’t want to move.

Their financial situation gave them many options – they had the ability to move into a lovely, upscale independent living community if they wanted to.  Many of their friends from over the years already lived there.  It was the responsible thing to do.

But their heart wasn’t in it.

In the midst of all this is where my path crossed with this woman.  She had contacted my senior move management company to discuss how the process would work, if they did move.  What could we do to make the process easier, what would it cost, and what would it entail.  How would all this work? she wondered.

I explained how our team could come in and help her sort, pack, manage move day and get them unpacked in their new home.  We could organize and run an estate sale after their move to liquidate the items they leave behind in their townhome.  She watched me intently as I explained the whole process, trying to take it all in.

I explained how, in the matter of just a few weeks, we could get them packed, moved, settled in their new home and have their old home emptied out and ready for the new owner.  It was the efficient and practical solution (our specialty).

But instead of being impressed by the ease and efficiency with which this transition could happen, I could tell that it seemed too quick for her.  It seemed scary.  They weren’t ready.

That’s when I stopped and changed the direction of the conversation – “maybe you folks shouldn’t move,” I said, sympathetically.  She seemed both surprised and relived to hear me say that.  I never want people to feel rushed or forced into moving.  Unless it is absolutely necessary to move a loved one against their will, I am of the opinion that it should be the decision of the senior themselves if they feel ready to downsize and move.

I wanted to be sure this gal understood all her options.  Moving to a retirement community would mean giving up much of the space they had in their current home that they loved.  It would mean giving up some of the privacy and beautiful views they had from their deck and outdoor space.  But it would also mean more social opportunities, less stress in caring for and maintaining their current home, dealing with lawn care and snow removal, and less cooking (which she was ready to be done with).

But staying had its advantages, as well.  They could re-work the space in their current home to make it work better for them.  The only thing that necessitated a trip down the stairs to the basement was her husband’s office, and the thought of their dad falling down the stairs was starting to scare their grown daughters, who were encouraging them to move.  However, I pointed out that if they re-worked the current floorplan of their main level, they could move her husband’s beloved desk and bookcases upstairs to the main floor, so that the stairs were no longer an issue.  Alternatively, they could have a stair lift installed so he could go up and down the stairs more safely.

They could hire in-home health care to be there for light household tasks, running errands, meal preparation.  They could even plan to bathe/shower when the caregiver was present if they were worried about a fall.  They could hire someone to maintain the lawn and clear away the snow.

Ultimately, it comes down to a philosophical question for this couple.  In this last chapter of their lives, how do they want to live?  None of us have a crystal ball that shows us the future, and we don’t know how our health will progress, what diagnosis or injury is around the corner, when our spouse will die, or if we will be the first to go.  These are all unknowns – for all of us.  The best we can do is to think through, and talk about, the various scenarios, and make the best decision we can with the information we have.  And, stay flexible.

If this couple decides that they want to “age in place” for now, it doesn’t mean that a move isn’t in their future, a few years down the road.  Their health might necessitate a higher level of care than can be provided at home.  Or, they might find that in-home health care provides them just the services they need to continue to feel safe and happy in their home the rest of their lives.

There is no right answer – the choice to stay or move differs for each person, and my hope is that we all are given the blessing of making the decision for ourselves.  I know that is not always the case, but when possible, I hope it can be.