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A House is Not a Home

I love my house. To me it's perfect - a yard that isn't too big to keep weeded, not too many bathrooms to clean, and a nice kitchen for my husband to cook for me. But what really makes it perfect is that it's home...that special place we each have and where we all want to live.

Home plays a strong role in every chapter of our lives...to 'leave home' is a rite of passage, we cherish our 'first place' and we long to buy our first home. It is a symbol of independence and becomes even more so as we age.

Home, whether it’s how to remain there or how to leave, is one of the topics I am most often asked about in my role at Senior Citizens Inc. (SCI). After all, our organization was built around helping people age successfully, and for many of us that means living at home. Let's talk first about staying at home.

There are many things you can do to your home to make it easier for you to age in place. These include installing grab bars, building ramps, and even the simple removal of rugs and the rearrangement of furniture. An Aging Care Specialist can come to your home and help identify ways to prepare your house for your next chapter.

In addition, there are many organizations in town, including SCI, that can provide support services in your home. These include meal delivery/preparation, housekeeping, shopping, assistance with grooming, etc. You can even get someone to coordinate it all for you. These services can be provided on a short-term basis, such as during the recovery from surgery, or in an open-ended relationship that lasts for years. One note of caution: use a trusted service provider rather than hiring someone directly. You want someone who has been thoroughly vetted and trained AND is covered by liability insurance.

Regardless of these changes and services in your home, there may come a time when it is best for you to leave your home. Too often, people see this as an ending and not the beginning of the next adventure. What's important to remember is, like the song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David says, “a house is not a home". You can find 'home' and remain independent (even with a little help) in a new place. 

I strongly recommend doing your fact-finding before there’s an emergency. A crisis situation doesn’t allow the time to look at all of your options and find the best place for you to live. So how do you begin?

The first thing to consider is what level of assistance you want and need. There is a wide range of options, so be realistic when considering not only your current but anticipated future needs. In the “aging world,” there are three main categories. A “residence” provides little or no formal assistance but often includes meals and activities. “Assisted living” gives more support, but the degree of that assistance can vary. A “nursing home” or “rehabilitation facility" provides the ultimate level of care including nursing and therapeutic support. There are many layers within these categories, and there are even facilities that offer all three areas for a continuum of care.

Once you ascertain your care needs, do your research. Do you have friends who have already made this transition? Ask them about their level of satisfaction and ask their advice. Visit potential places, preferably with a friend or relative (two sets of eyes are better than one!) Sit down and talk to the folks who live there. Stay for lunch. Some places will even let you spend the night! Ask questions, such as how much do added services like laundry cost? Can you access the transportation service to any location you want? Can you eat in your room if you like or invite a friend to dinner? After each tour, think about what you liked or didn't like about the facility. Did you like the colors? Was it cozy or did it feel cold to you? Was there a garden? With each visit, you are narrowing down what you really want in your new place.

When you've made your decision, solicit family and friends to help with the mechanics of moving and downsizing. If that's not an option, there are companies that may be able to help. At SCI, we call it 'rightsizing,' and services run from finding a mover to helping you sell things you don't need anymore.

Once you are in your new house, make it your own. Hang your pictures.  Invite your neighbors over for coffee. Take advantage of all the social activities and make new friends...find “your place.” After all, that's what really makes a home!

For the past 17 years, Patti Lyons has been the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years. She serves on the Meals On Wheels America Board and is a Governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.