The Homestead: Love Yer Elders

by Michael Daly

Thank God my sister, Eleanor, with her husband James and their two teenage children, lives with and cares for my 92-year-old mother Muriel in Westhampton.

Eleanor is also a mom herself and works as a real estate agent. Mom is in fairly good health. Her wonderful nature is a joy for us and she is loved dearly by a very large family and many, many friends. My three 20-something sons grew up with “Grandma” when she was still able to snap a towel if anyone got out of line. Today the snap is gone, replaced by butterscotch candies for “good behavior” but the wisdom of a woman who spent life achieving her goals, like a Masters in Education from NYU, when very few woman made it to college, is as strong, salient and valuable as ever.

After marrying my father, Francis, Eleanor and I came along. Then, due to one illness after another, Mom dedicated her life to caring for her father, her mother, her grandchildren (5), my dad, and her sister (Auntie El). Whenever, as a young buck I would tell her she was “just a mom,” she would remind me, with flared nostrils, that she “was a school principal until you came along.”

I stood corrected. Today, she is up and around every day, but doesn’t travel well. After a broken hip and the onset of severe arthritis, she rarely leaves the house. Eleanor and a team of health aids attend to her every need.

Mom never thought she would live this long. Grandma passed at 82. The advancement in medicine has people living longer today. It’s almost as if the medical community keeps score on how many people they “save” and keep alive.  But “being alive” can’t be our only goal. We need to be just as committed to maintaining the quality of our loved one’s life.

Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away! Dancing can do that for you!    from“Tahitian Choreographies” by Vicki Corona

More and more, I find myself in conversations with people who planned to live in their homes for the rest of their days. But they are living longer than they thought they would. And while plans of living off of a nest egg seemed sound at one point, the financial crisis of 2008 took its toll on those nest eggs.

In the “Roaring 2000s,” it appeared that living off investment interest was a sound idea, but many are now faced with using principal to meet living expenses. Living longer and smaller nest eggs are not an ideal combination of factors.

According to the Senior Real Estate Specialist coursebook, provided by the National Association of Realtors:

“A fast-growing segment of the population is nonagenarians, people in their 90s, and centenarians, people aged 100 or more. Census projections put the number of nonagenarians at 2.7 million in 2020…. the increasing numbers of the very elderly will challenge societal institutions’ adaptability, particularly in the areas of medical care, long-term care, and housing. Current living centenarians in the U.S. were born during the early years of the G.I. Generation. They have experienced the Depression, several wars, and all of the events experienced by later generations, plus personal losses as friends and family pass on. [They] generally keep a positive outlook and have an innate ability to “let go” of life’s sad events.”

What’s a person to do when they find their financial resources dwindling and their home is their largest asset? Sell? And move where? And what if they have family and lifelong connections where they live? Take on boarders? Not as common today and not legal in most of our municipalities.

Myth: Every Retiree Wants to Live in Florida.

The geographic distribution of the older population follows the same pattern as the general population. The most populous states—California, Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey—are also home to the largest percentages of older people. California, Florida, and Texas have the fastest-growing older population. Eight out of 10 Americans live in metropolitan areas, and so does the older population. Metro elders cite access to cultural and educational events as important considerations. They also value the transportation, health care, and shopping available in metro areas that would be difficult to replace in small towns or rural settings. The tradeoff for metro living, however, may be a higher cost of living.

While there are many “retirement communities” in the south and west,  there are not many here on the East End of Long Island. And while some folks do want to move to warmer climate, there are many who want to remain in their own homes, or Age In Place, as my mother has been able to do. But not everyone has a daughter who can dedicate their time. Many grandparents are also helping out their adult children by taking care of grandchildren, especially in single parent households, because everyone is working today to make ends meet.

As we Age in Place, homes can’t always accommodate the needs of those who can’t walk stairs or need the assistance of mobility devices. According to AARP research, 8 out of 10 adults will experience future special housing needs. Those remaining in their current residence need to access support services and be able to modify their home. But who do you call to make modifications? The same contractor who is building the McMansion down the road?

In the old days, it was either living at your own home or a nursing home. Today, there are several options to consider. For those who are seeking independent living, there are Active Adult Communities, Seniors Apartments, Cohousing with friends or relatives and Age-Restricted Communities. For those seeking assisted living options, they can consider Congregate Living, Assisted Living, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Skilled Nursing Facilities.

But how do we decide what’s best for each of us?  This issue requires education and planning to understand and find the best solution for each and every individual. And finances, geography and dealing with family dynamics present unforeseen challenges for many families.

An often-heard rally cry at many town board meetings is the clear and obvious need for more affordable housing on the East End. We are also in dire need of more housing alternatives for seniors. We need to put senior housing projects on the agenda for each of our municipalities, every bit as much as we do affordable housing! The NIMBYs who “see the need for affordable housing, just not near my home” are beginning to see that we have done a great job of building beautiful homes for the well-heeled, with an average sale price of three to four times the national average. Maintaining a balance of all age, cultural and socio-economic groups is crucial to a healthy and vibrant community. The time is now.

Michael Daly is an East Ender and regular contributor to The East End Beacon on community issues that he cares deeply about. He can be reached at 631.525.6000 or by email at mfdaly1@gmail.com.

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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