I have been thinking a lot lately about how my Mom's many small decisions have left her living alone in a large house with little human contact at the age of 90. She alternately argues that she doesn't "need" human interaction and then says she is bored and lonely. When someone does ask her out for lunch or some other activity the "high" endures for some time and she talks about how great it was. Yet she resists all suggestions for changes even as simple as calling friends and asking if they would like to go to lunch. She says since she can't drive anymore it is not appropriate for her to ask others to go places because they would have to drive. I'm not criticizing her, I just don't want to end up in her situation.
So what were the series of decisions that left her in this situation?
- She and my Dad moved to a very rural area soon after retirement to live near my brother and his family. A good move as they got very involved in their small community, rekindled relationships with my Dad's brothers, nieces and nephew, and had the joy of grandchildren as an integral part of their lives.
- Then my brother and his family moved 30 miles away to a larger town with good schools, a college, and the medical care facilities that my parents used. My parents decided to stay put.
- Their health deteriorated, we toured alternative living options in their area and they decided to stay put.
- My Dad died, my brother and I have both offered her space in our homes, and my Mom decided to stay put.
- She had a health crisis, her driver's license expired and she decided it was a good time to stop driving (I agree) yet stay put. She hires yard and housework help and a driver to take her to her medical appointments yet won't consider having someone move in even as a roommate/housework helper. A friend takes her to the grocery store every other week and she complains about running out of food (that is the food she wants, not food) in between but won't give my brother a list of what to pick up because she doesn't want to "bother him". The town librarian delivers books when she needs new ones. My brother and sister-in-law come to visit at least once a week and go with her to more serious medical appointments. She sits and reads most of the day - alone.
This is a 90 year old woman who has an active mind, stays on top of current events, loves going out to eat, see art exhibits or plays, visit with friends at the library, etc. Yet she won't go to the senior center (which provides transportation) or anywhere else to exercise and socialize, ask friends to go places or take her to the library, or move to a retirement home with activities and transportation. I mentioned to her that we were at a concert earlier this week and saw a dozen older folks there who had ridden to the concert in transportation provided by their retirement homes and wished that she could do that. She said that would be nice but she wouldn't consider any changes.
So what have I learned as I attempt to avoid being in the same situation?
- On the plus side, good friends and family close by are critical as are enough time in a community to develop close relationships.
- Living near the things you want to do and having transportation alternatives are crucial. Having to hire a driver to even get to the hair salon increases isolation.
- Being willing to make changes in your living circumstances is vital at any age as is staying physically active.
I don't know what our decisions will be as we age further, but we do at least recognize that waiting too long to put oneself into a supportive living environment is a mistake. Hard things to think about and decide but essential!