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Get Ready to Age or Stay Young?

“Aging in place” home modifications are gaining traction as a way to “get ready” for retirement.  We do need to put some thought into what it would take to be able to live our later years in the surroundings we have come to love in the decades before. But “aging in place” changes can be way too much like “getting ready to die.”  That is a terrible waste of a lot of good years.

Have you ever ended up in the “handicapped” motel room because it was all they had left when you walked up to the registration desk? When this happens to me, I fret a bit about taking it when someone else might really need it.  But that slight bit of empathy is really a disguise for something much deeper.  The message that rumbles from the depths is This is not me!  I feel like I am staying in a hospital when I end up in one of those rooms.  It’s not a place I belong, and I usually don’t relax very well.

Doing a bunch of “aging in place” upgrades to your home in case you might eventually need them can creat the same dissonance.

So if someone is advocating that sort of remodel before you retire so that you are “ready” IF you end up infirm, please think long and hard about what’s being recommended.  How likely is it that you will end up needing those specific things?  What is your family history?  What is your health like now?  Will you enjoy your home as much with those changes as before they were made? Would you even want to remain in your own home if things came to that?

One of the biggest drawbacks of this approach is that it can actually drain away things that would have kept you from getting infirm in the first place.  Gardens can be extremely soothing, and gardening gets you out where you can soak up vitamin D.  It also works your muscles and gives you a sense of accomplishment.  Running up and down the stairs every day gets your heart rate up.  Don’t stop doing stuff you like to do until you have to–whether it’s weightlifting in the garage or having your bedroom on an upper floor or taking three dogs for a walk–separately– every day.

Deciding that you should  have it easier now, even though you can still do all that easily means you don’t get that exercise from here on.  That exercise may have kept you healthy enough to never need any of the modifications you made.

And if you are thinking that you need to move someplace where someone else is responsible for the lawn, run the numbers before you get in line for the newest model.  Homeowners Association dues that include lawn service aren’t geared to cover just that.  You might be able to get all the lawn service you need for much less than what you’d owe the HOA every month at that nice new retirement compound if you just stay where you are and pay to get it done when you need to.

Doing a bunch of modifications to “get ready” before we actually reach the point of age-related decline can be way off base with what we actually end up needing, too.  It might be your sight not your back that fails.  Instead of that wheelchair, you might end up having to work standing because of back problems.  So much for those lower counters!

Let’s find the right balance on this.  If you are buying or doing a major remodel, assuring there’s flexiblity in what you select so you can make changes later if you need them is probably enough. Put money aside for modifications you may need later if you can–for a the new place or the home you’ve loved for 50 years.  That makes a lot more sense than doing a bunch of stuff you might not ever need now and ending up living in a sterile, unauthentic place from here on.

When you reach the point of decline (if you ever do), you may decide there’s a better way than continuing to live where you love now, too.  You’re not going to know what you need then until you get that far.  Trying to get it all set up before you reach that point is silly–particularly since you might never need anything at all modified!

Think about this stuff, yes.  But don’t make  a lot of changes until you know what you need to accommodate.  Instead, focus on staying vibrant as long as you can.  That’s not running away from advanced age–it’s redefining it.


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