Battling Time

Dennis Friedman

AS I GROW OLDER, I realize how important money and good health are. If we have sufficient income to pay our retirement expenses and if our health remains good, we have the makings of something very special.

What is that special thing? It’s the ability to be independent—to live the life we’ve always lived with few limitations. We can continue to live in our home, drive our car, visit our friends and cook our meals.

As we age, this isn’t easy. I see my 96-year-old mother struggle every day to maintain her independence. Little by little, time is stripping her of her ability to do the things she’s always done. She’s becoming more dependent on others to help her with her daily activities.

My mother’s currently waging her biggest battle of all against time. It’s her ability to continue living in her own house—the place she’s called home for 40 years.

Some people don’t understand why my mother doesn’t go into an assisted living facility. They point out, “She would have better care. Her family wouldn’t have to worry about her.” They also argue, “When I can no longer care for myself, I’m going into assisted living. I don’t want my children to have to take care of me.”

My mother may be 96, but her mind is good, she can navigate her house on her own, manage her own medication, bathe and dress herself, and cook her own meals when necessary. She does, however, need help with grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments and her finances.

Her house has the necessary safety precautions, such as handrails to protect her from falling and an alert system to summon immediate medical attention. In an emergency, she can still drive her car. She passed her written driving test at 93.

My mother doesn’t have a disability like my aunt, who has trouble seeing, or my friend, who is showing early signs of dementia. Both are in assisted living. In other words, my mother is perfectly capable of staying in her home, with some assistance from family, friends or a caregiver.

When is it time for a parent to go into assisted living? It’s a question many families face. According to the Elder Care Alliance, “Some common signs that may suggest your parent could benefit from assisted living can include:

  • Needing reminders to take medication
  • Noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Loss of mobility or increase in falls
  • Signs of neglecting household maintenance
  • No longer able to perform daily tasks, such as grooming or preparing meals
  • Increased isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies.”

I believe my mother is currently better off living at home. She’s in no imminent danger. Running her household keeps her engaged and active, both mentally and physically. It gives her a reason to get up in the morning.

This battle with Father Time isn’t really about her home. It’s about my mother’s independence—her ability to control her own life. Isn’t this the true reason money and health are so valuable?

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include Don’t Want to KnowAre We There Yet and Healthy and Wealthy. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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Rick Connor
Rick Connor
3 years ago

Nice article Dennis. I too support staying independent as long as a person can. The only caveat is that things can change quickly as our parents age. You provide a good list to consider. My concerns for my mother-in-law started when I noticed her quarterly Vanguard statements were no longer neatly filed. A stack of unopened statements piling up in the office was a significant change in this highly organized woman’s behavior. It was an early sign of rapidly increasing dementia. The key was observing the change in what was her “normal” behavior. Thanks for addressing an important topic.

Phil Dawson
Phil Dawson
3 years ago

Thanks Dennis. My mom is in a similar situation that can change very quickly at age 92. It remains unclear if we should encourage her to move now on her own terms or wait until a crisis forces her hand. The right answer is unknowable, but the decision not to decide is still a decision.

3 years ago

Here’s a slightly different view. Even though we love our home, we plan to downsize while we are still healthy and get into a senior community-probably a CCRC-that we can enjoy. My parents health declined rapidly and house maintenance overwhelmed them, leaving me with a number of significant challenges. My wife’s grandmother told my wife not to wait to get out of her home and into a senior community because she had difficulty making friends and enjoying her assisted living facility. So independence is nice but sometimes maintaining that emotional connection to a home may not be the best for oneself or ones family.

George White
George White
3 years ago

My mother lived on her own until she was 92. But by then, all her friends were dead and she had very little interaction with other people. this can cause brain deterioration. She fell and during rehab asked me and my sister to find an assisted living facility for her, which we did. Once she moved in, she noticeably improved due to the social interaction. I would suggest not waiting too long because if your mother does deteriorate – she may not qualify for assisted living and will have to go to a skilled nursing facility. Just a few things to think about.

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