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What to Consider When Aging in Place Looks Uncertain

Five actions you can take to help determine what’s next


Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

Seven steps stand between me and aging in place.

For almost eight years, they presented no problem. But after Achilles tendon surgery last September, they were a huge problem. Things got better for me until early April, when I strained the calf muscle on my “good” leg while protecting the leg with the new tendon. Then, the steps became, once again, a huge problem.

“You need a plan for what’s next for you,” my son said as we drove to the Injury Clinic after he had helped me creep down those steps and get into a wheelchair he’d rented.

I live in an apartment I treasure, a place I found by accident the day after I moved to San Francisco eight years ago. Also, because I am not brand new to this expensive city, my rent is well below market value. Many times, I have vowed I will never leave.

Yet now I am pondering moving.

Rejecting, and Then Accepting, the Idea of Change

Agreeing right away to my son’s remark was not my first reaction. Instead, images of my physical and emotional struggles while in orthopedic rehab at a skilled nursing facility after surgery last fall flashed through my mind. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I thought. “No nursing home for me ever again!”

Fortunately, my surgeon is now optimistic about a full recovery for me, so I have no need for a skilled nursing center. Nor do I need a place in “assisted living.”  Plus, I am leery of being the first in my circle to turn to an “independent living” senior residence.

Why? I don’t want to eat meals in a dining room on anyone’s schedule. I hate Bingo. I don’t want to go to the grocery or a theater or the mall in the van provided by the center.

Also, I don’t like the idea of being monitored by staff for any signs of physical or mental deterioration so they can sign me up for continuing care (for lots more money) at such time as I can’t perform the six all-important activities of daily living, as they are known in senior-care circles. They are:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Toileting (a weird word, if ever there was one)
  • Transferring from a bed or chair without assistance
  • Maintaining continence

Making a Plan for What’s Next

So what options are acceptable to me? What sort of plan would suit me, now that I view those seven steps as a threat to my mobility? Here are five actions I’ve taken so far to address the issue of what, indeed, is next for me:

1. Be careful. Now is the time to avoid further injury. Wherever I go, I am mindful every minute of where I am and what obstacles (uneven sidewalk, rain-slick roads, steep steps, a lack of stair railings, high curbs, sand-covered access to the beach or cobblestones) may be in my path. “Just Be Careful,” a friend wrote, emphasizing her message in the uppercase letters. I assured her that I am “90-year-old careful,” though I am two decades younger.

2. Talk to experts. Temporarily suspending my disdain for organized senior housing, I contacted caring.com and spoke at length with a kind woman there who helped me sort through what’s available in the city. (Another good source is seniorly.com.) The variety of options is astounding. I learned about:

  • Places where you share a bathroom — and sometimes a room — and places where you have your own unit
  • Places where you may bring your own furniture and places where you may not
  • Places where you get a kitchenette or share one with residents on your floor — or you must go to the damn dining room
  • Places with a garage for your car and places with street parking only

What’s affordable? Nothing in San Francisco, unless you are a low-income senior or a wealthy individual. I am neither, and I remain appalled that some teensy studio apartments in senior housing here cost $6,000 a month — after you pay a $250,000 to $850,000 “buy-in” fee.

Plus, I learned that most senior housing buildings here have a waiting list of five or six years. As a Plan B, I did submit an application to an almost-affordable place. The leasing agent called to say she would contact me in three to five years.

3. Entertain crazy notions. On a whim, I called a friend my age in another city and asked her to consider moving to San Francisco so we could share a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with an elevator and an ocean view. Plus, by splitting the rent, we each would pay less than I now pay for my one-bedroom. I have lived alone since 1980, and my friend also treasures her privacy, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. After a great deal of thought, she said no. Frankly, I was kind of relieved.

4. Check out apartments for rent. In an online hunt for an apartment with either an elevator or no stairs, I discovered that Craigslist, Redfin and Zillow do not offer “elevator” as a filter. (Demographics alert to leasing agents: The first of the 78 million boomers turned 70 in 2016. Many of us will want buildings with elevators.) The good news: Zumper (a site specializing in apartment rentals) does offer “elevator” as a filter. You can even add “wheelchair access” to your list of wants.

Perusing rent prices, I realized it’s likely that I would have to scale down to a studio from the one-bedroom place I would prefer. I looked around my 720-square-foot apartment. Could I give up some furniture, let go of some stuff? Sure. I left a 1,700-square-foot condo in St. Louis to move here, so I know the drill.

Just in case I did find a suitable apartment, I went through every drawer, closet and cabinet and filled 11 bags of superfluous stuff for a friend’s sidewalk sale. Will I miss what I gave her? I have forgotten already most of what I packed up. I also took about 100 books and 25 CDs to the used book and music store, and received $80 in cash.

5. Get the word out. I emailed everyone I know here and asked them to keep in mind what I am looking for in the way of a new apartment. Am I willing to relocate? No. My priority is to stay close to my family. They all live in the city, and my life is here now.

After my first negative reaction to my son’s question, and after then realizing everyone my age might benefit from seriously considering this deeply personal issue, I now am grateful that he asked what’s next for me.

Hey, I’m working on it!

Patricia Corrigan
By Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a journalist and the author of numerous books, including a guide to San Francisco that expresses her great joy in her adopted city. Visit her blog here.

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