Saturday, March 26, 2016

Boomers Relocating to Sarasota: Planning Now for an Independent Tomorrow

From the time I entered college, and for the next 30 years, I periodically visited my great-aunt Caroline in her apartment in New York City. She was opinionated, active and independent, was a volunteer English teacher to foreign-born high school students, and took the subway alone until she was 90 years old, despite poor vision and hearing. 

From my visits with Caroline I learned about how to structure my living situation to keep me independent as long as I could be. 

For instance, she said, "Always make sure your house or apartment has two bedrooms and two baths, so you can get live-in help when you need it." Such a moment seemed very far in the distant future to me, then, but I filed it away and went on with my young life.

Now that I'm moving towards later phases of life, anticipating the possibility of reaching the age of my parents' generation, I think more about how to take care of my current and future needs. . 

While there are lots of well-run, socially engaging, supportive retirement home options out there, along with being extremely expensive, living in one of them would deprive me of most of the things that are important to me in my daily life. 

Here are some of the things that matter to me: 

  • the company of my dog 
  • enough space for him to play and to be walked where he can interact with friendly neighbors 
  • visual and tactile access to the earth and to plants and native critters like squirrels, geckos, birds and butterflies 
  • a yard with space for small gardens that I can tend and enjoy
  • easy access to outdoor space throughout the day and evening
  • visual access to other people's lives and dogs as they pass by my window 
  • daily chats with neighbors who enjoy seeing my dog and me walk by 
  • walking access to basic shopping and dining, including the opportunity for casual discussions with the people who work there 
  • going out for a couple of hours each night to enjoy food and live music in the midst of other people
  • a managably sized house that I can maintain myself, with occasional help from a handyman and lawn service
Recognizing that I can't find most of these things at a retirement home, and that I can't afford to be in one anyway, last year I implemented phase one of my own plan to age in place, to create my own NORC (naturally occurring retirement community): 

With the help of a versatile handyman, I created a separate guest suite in my small house. For now, it provides me with needed income to keep up with mortgage payments, as I host visitors to my city for short stays. Longer-term, though, it will allow me to have live-in aides if I reach a point where I can't do all my daily support tasks myself. 

A recent outpatient surgery provided me with the opportunity to try phase two of my NORC plan. Because I'd be returning home right after coming out of general anesthesia, I needed someone to pick me up from the surgery center and drive me the few blocks to my house. I decided to ask a neighbor I knew only from walking my dog past his house. Over the years, we'd become friendly, and it was clear that we shared similar values about everyday life. I decided that this was a good time to suggest an exchange of reliability: I'd be here for him if he ever needed help, and would be grateful if he'd help me now. He said he'd be happy to be my post-surgery ride home. 

Because I didn't have anyone at home who could ensure my safety after I returned post-anesthesia, the surgery center said that I had to hire home aides to stay with me for 24 hours. Here was phase three of my NORC plan: I called a local home aide service and arranged for 3 shifts of CNA companions to stay with me. This reminded me of Aunt Caroline who had regular aides to help her with household tasks when she was living alone in her New York apartment. Now, apparently, it was my turn to add this layer to my own support system.

Since I'd already created my guest suite, I was able to accommodate the aides who stayed with me. It never occurred to me when I finished the suite last year that I'd get a chance to use it for this purpose so soon, but it turned out to be perfect timing, and it worked smoothly.

Now, as the scent of spring flowers starts to float through my neighborhood, I'm grateful to be living in my own little house, with my dog in the garden, sand under my feet in the yard, neighbors nearby, and access to the everyday delights that are important to me. 

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