60 70 80 90: Planning ahead for satisfying senior years
By David C. Pratt
Published: 7 October 2013
Words: 25,480. 95 pages
ePub ISBN: 9781927260142
Kindle ISBN: 9781927260135
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Review – Touchstone May 2014
60, 70, 80, 90 – Planning Ahead for Satisfying Senior Years
By David Pratt
2013, Philip Garside Publishing, 77 pages
Review in Touchstone May 2014
Reviewer: John Meredith
Some years ago a former president of the Methodist Church was speaking about growing older. He said something like: ‘It is sometimes claimed that, when you are over 70, you are going down hill. If this is true, it is a very pleasant hill to be going down.’ He himself was over 70 and was enjoying life.
In this book retired Methodist minister David Pratt recognises how important it is for those growing older to grasp opportunities that will shape life well and to look forward with hope, not back with regret.
David dedicates the book to his grandmother from whom he learned the wisdom of those old in years and experience.
He says he was challenged to share some of his own ideas when he mentioned to a hospital manager that there seemed to be a gap in the literature dealing with the problems and possibilities of old age. ‘Why don’t you write it?’ she asked. So he did, and the result is a book of drawn from his own experience of growing older.
While planning ahead makes good sense, beyond making some financial provision for a far off day, people caught up in the busyness of work, family life and social activities may give little thought to growing old. But years pass quickly and decisions relating to the changed circumstances of growing older cannot be put off forever.
David does not presume to provide answers for every older person but rather makes practical suggestions and raises questions for consideration. He touches on issues such as where to live, finance and money matters, health, facing mortality, interests and hobbies, being grandparents, love and sexuality, being single in a partners’ world, security and safety and ageism and discrimination.
At the end there is list of organisations that work with older people and websites and other details to assist with further enquiries.
Perhaps one of the key factors in achieving satisfying senior years is not just making the right decisions but having a positive attitude to life. David touches on this.
A positive attitude involves being open-minded, looking beyond hurt and disappointment to see what is good, and being willing to learn and forgive. It involves having dreams, making room for other people in one’s life, keeping hope alive and deciding what is possible and realistic.
Growing old should not be seen as a threat. David remembers an advertising jingle used by a bank to attract older customers: ‘The best is yet to be’. This is an extract from a poem by Robert Browning who wrote, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid.”
As David says, old age can be trying. But it can also be full of rich moments, new insights, much laughter and enjoyment. This is the conviction that motivates him and shines through his text.
About the Author and this Book
This lively book, based on personal experience, is full of practical suggestions for people preparing to retire. While based on the New Zealand scene, readers in other countries will also find the material thought-provoking and encouraging.
Retired Methodist minister and hospital chaplain, David Pratt’s many years of working with older people, their carers and families, convinced him that too few people think ahead and prepare well for their retirement and aging. His own experience of reaching the age of 70, having suffered a serious and unexpected illness at age 65, sharpened his awareness of the issues.
Topics covered include:
- Getting started
- Where will we live
- Home – the house we live in (See sample chapter below)
- Interests and hobbies
- The joy of being a grandparent
- Finance and money matters
- Being single in a partners’ world
- Health and medical matters
- Security and safety
- Everyone is going to die
- Love and sexuality
- Dreaming sensibly
- Ageism and discrimination
- Old, old age.
Website and other contact details for New Zealand organisations and government departments who work with older people are listed in an extensive appendix. The book is fully indexed.
Home: The house we live in
Henry Van Dyke tells the story of The Other Wise Man. Artiban, as a young man seeking adventure, sells all that he owns, buys three jewels, and sets off to join the three wise men following the star to Bethlehem. Helping a wounded Hebrew on the road results in him missing the appointed meeting place. The three wise men journey on without Artiban. He, in his lonely journey following the star, is distracted time and time again, pausing to help those in need. At Bethlehem, while the newborn are slaughtered, he hides a mother and baby, bribing a soldier with one of his jewels to leave them alone. There is a slave girl whose ransom is paid. After 30 years journeying, helping others and seeking the Christ, Artiban’s jewels are spent. At the Hill of Golgotha, Artiban, as an old man with nothing left to give, feels the despair of the Christ and weeps at his own failure. It is then that he hears the quiet words of the Christ, “In as much as you did it for one of the least of these my children, you did it for me.”
Sometimes the way we choose does not take the turnings we might have expected. We travel in directions we had not dreamt of taking and end up living where we had not planned to live. Perhaps deciding how to live is a more important question than deciding where to live. The other wise man was such a person.
When you have decided how and where to live, it is time to consider the actual home in which you will live. Will it meet your on going retirement needs? And, given that you will probably be living there for the next two decades, your choice of home needs to match your lifestyle and your physical abilities.
If you want to stay put, is your present home a satisfactory match to your aging body? Do you always want to be climbing stairs to the bedroom and bathroom? We once owned a home with the kitchen and living area on the first floor. It had a great view. But we soon got tired of climbing and carrying everything upstairs. Do you have too much lawn to mow yourself? When does the place next need a paint job? Then there are all those small maintenance jobs that need doing. Who will carry out these tasks? Do you have the energy to do all these things?
Some adjustments and alterations may be necessary to adapt your home to your advancing years. Perhaps you need a ramp for easier access instead of steps. Bathrooms and toilets can be fitted with grab rails which may prevent unwanted falls. Get rid of floor rugs which have the potential to trip you up. Install a clothes dryer so that you don’t have to hang out washing. An automatic robotic vacuum cleaner will save you from that energy consuming task of vacuum cleaning regularly. Sort out the bathroom, get rid of the bath and install a good shower. Buy a plastic stool so that you can sit in the shower. Organise storage space that allows you to get regularly used items without climbing or reaching.
Maybe your home is located on a road that has become a busy highway. Do you always want to live with traffic noise and congestion? Will driving out of your entrance become a problem? You may find it more helpful to be located near a shopping mall, medical care, easily accessed transport or a library. You originally bought the property because it was near the school. Your children have long since become adults with families of their own. Your needs and requirements are now quite different.
Size does matter. Do you still need four bedrooms, or could you live more comfortably in a two bedroom apartment? Perhaps you need the extra room for all those mementoes of what used to be? Or maybe you need the extra room for when all the family come home at Christmas? Alternatively, could it be time that you started going to your family each Christmas?
Downsizing to a more suitable home can have benefits, but it may also come with its problems. There will be less wall space. “Where will I hang treasured family photographs?” Have those reminders of overseas travel become little more than dust collectors? The children’s school artwork and all the handmade Christmas and birthday cards. Has the time come to discard these memories of the past? The chair that I have loved to relax in each evening; and Dad’s chair, I can’t just throw them away. But they are too big for my downsized lounge-kitchen-dining room. “I wish I could keep the piano, but my daughter says it has to go.” The questions, the decisions and the emotions are almost overwhelming. Downsizing, even shifting house, can be very stressful.
Perhaps you should ask yourself some questions about your house and your health. Disabilities sometimes mean that our present home becomes unsuitable. Is there adequate room to manoeuvre a walking frame? Can I bend enough to plug appliances into the power points? Can I still hang out the washing? (This becomes an extraordinarily difficult task if you have to use a walking frame.) Would a shower be more suitable than a bath, or should I go really modern and have the bathroom converted into a wet room? Are there too many steps and stairs? Do the steps at both front and back doors hinder me going in and out of the house?
There is another sense in which size does matter. Cities and towns are becoming more compact as people choose to live closer to the services that they require. As a consequence it has become popular to subdivide the back yard, build a unit and sell off the house. Often the result is a much more suitable retirement home. If planned and executed well, the costs may be fully met by the sale of the front property. This may be a better option than staying in the family home. You may also find that your rates are lower, and that you have less grass to mow and garden to weed. It pays to do your homework well before choosing this option.
It is possible, and many choose this option, to sell your home, and for about the same capital outlay, buy your way into a unit at a retirement village. This option gives you a brand new apartment and often it comes with shared community facilities, a bowling green, a swimming pool, a café, a restaurant, and sometimes a workshop or sewing room. It is upmarket accommodation. The gardener keeps the lawns and gardens. Someone cleans your windows and sweeps the paths and corridors. There may be bridge afternoons, a coffee club, free newspapers and a library. For some this is a good option. It allows you to choose a balance between being independent and being close to those who can help you if you need help.
There are retirement village opportunities where you can have your own small garden to grow vegetables and flowers. These units are often more costly. Each retirement village has its own characteristics and offers a range of options from which to choose.
Sounds like heaven. There is a monthly cost involved, the body corporate fee, which is used to service and maintain common areas. You will be surrounded by older people who are aging. This will not provide a daily balance of young and old, particularly children, in your life. This option is not for those who wish to have a substantial vegetable garden, build a boat or construct their own furniture. But it is the choice of many and there is a high level of satisfaction among those who choose the retirement village lifestyle.
Any move to a retirement village must be your choice. Your family should not make such a far reaching decision on your behalf without your full consent. You will have strong thoughts and preferences. Make sure that your ideas are discussed and heard by them. But the choice must be yours, for you are the one who has to live with the results of what is a most important decision.
The organisation Guide to Retirement Living has published a directory of that name which lists opportunities available for living in a retirement home or village. Their contact details are in the appendix Organisations Working with Older People.
Consider the option of building a new home
For many this will not be an option at all. But if you have looked forward to a new home in your retirement, read on. This is an option for those who have the capital to do so. The last thing you want in your retirement is to be tied to the repayment of a mortgage. Have a very careful look at your savings and the worth of your present home before you proceed.
Also consider your health. Are you fit enough to live with the stress involved in building a new home? After a heart attack, new home construction is the biggest killer of senior people. It can be a very risky and stressful road to travel.
The easiest way to a new home, if this option is for you, is to buy a new home. Find a real estate agent who will listen to your requirements and you will get all the assistance you need.
If you do decide to build a home, have a look at the housing companies who will have a range of pre-designed homes for you to consider. With some housing companies you can make minor alterations to the basic floor plan. With others you will be able to choose fittings, carpets, paint schemes and other minor small items. The advantage of working with such companies is that they will be able to give you a time frame. You will know when you can move in and you will be able to time your relocation to suit your needs.
Then there is the option of designing and building your own home. Very few will want to actually construct their new home themselves. For most it is essential to employ a builder. Ask around and look at the construction and finish of other new homes before you make your choice. You may be wise to employ an architect to design your home. That way all the details will be given adequate thought. But architects are costly. Determine the cost of an architect before you commit. Make sure that whoever designs your home knows your dreams and your wishes. If you want a large master bedroom, say so. If you want huge windows to let in as much light as possible, say so. Will you be doing a fair bit of entertaining? Let the architect know that you want a large kitchen, dining room and lounge. Go through every detail before the first spade of earth is turned. Know what you are paying for and make sure that you get it.
A multitude of questions need to be worked through before you commit to building new. Let’s list some of them. (These are also the characteristics that you would be wise to consider if you are buying your retirement home.)
- How many rooms? How many bedrooms? Will you often have guests or family staying?
- Will you need a work room, study or office? Will this also fulfil the purpose of an extra bedroom?
- There should be at least one bedroom downstairs on the living level. If you become unwell or disabled this will save you from continually climbing stairs.
- How many toilets will you require? It has become the norm to have one downstairs and a guest toilet near the guest bedroom and bathroom.
- Will the bathroom contain a toilet and shower? Or will it be a wet room — a room with a waterproof floor and a shower in one corner? The advantages are that there will be no steps to trip over as the floor will be on one level and it will be easier to clean. Do you need a bath? Make sure that any separate toilet room is large enough for those with stiff limbs and joints to negotiate.
- A storage room is a great idea. Such a room lined with shelving should be built in every home.
- Hallways need to be wide enough for a wheelchair and doors need to be easily opened. Consider sliding cavity doors in suitable places.
- There should ideally be no steps and stairs. Entrance and exit points should be flat with nothing to trip over. Easy flow to porches decks and back yards is important. Consider a ramp instead of steps. Make sure that there is wheelchair access.
- Have plenty of power points and have them set at levels that require little bending and reaching. You can never have too many.
- Have plenty of adequate lighting, especially in areas where you work in the evenings at some craft, or where you get comfortable to read a book or newspaper. Remember that aged eyesight sometimes deteriorates. Good lighting always helps.
- Tiled floors look good but are most unforgiving if you fall. No one wants a broken limb in old age.
- Choose the colour scheme of walls and carpets wisely. You do have to think about resale value.
- Kitchen cupboards must be accessible without too much bending or climbing.
- Make sure that there is adequate kitchen bench space. How many appliances do you need to accommodate?
- Fridge and freezer will need easy access. Do you need a separate freezer?
- What sized range and hob do you really need?
- Will the pantry be large enough?
- Do you want separate kitchen, dining and lounge rooms, or will these be open plan?
- Will there be enough wall space for all those paintings and mementoes?
- Do you want a one or two car garage? A two car garage helps with the resale value.
- Will wash house laundry facilities in the garage be adequate?
- Consider clothes lines and clothes dryers.
- Do you require room for a vegetable garden? Do you want a patio BBQ area? How much lawn do you want to mow?
- Double glazing is now a requirement of most district building codes. Other money and energy saving possibilities include installation of a heat pump, solar water heating and good quality lined drapes.
- What sort of heating will you install? An open fire may look and feel good, but in many towns and cities open fires are prohibited. What about a heat pump? It requires little maintenance and can also act as an air conditioner on hot and humid summer days. Consider an internal ducting system to circulate heat from under the roof throughout the house.
Make sure that whoever designs your house hears your requirements and includes them in the design. You are the one paying out your life savings for your dream home. Get what you want, what you need and what you have dreamt about.
There will be a contract to sign. Read it carefully, every detail, and ask all your questions before you sign. Get your solicitor to check it out. And insist on some indication in the contract of the occupation / completion date. It is now quite common to have a contractual completion date, with penalties for running over time.
Note very carefully what the penalties are if you wish to change any detail of the design during the building process. Changes are costly and may even require the issue of a new council building consent.
And if you do decide to build a new home, make that decision in plenty of time to ensure that you do not have to rent accommodation between homes. Arrange the timing of the sale of one home and the occupation of your new home as close as possible together. This avoids renting and the cost of storing your effects. Rental and storage can be costly.
Well there it is. These are the housing options. No, I am not trying to shift everyone on at age 65. There are many reasons why you should stay living right where you are. Firstly, our houses become our homes. A home is a place where love, experience and memories reside. Secondly, the longer we live in our homes the more we get attached to them. We get emotionally attached to the place where family, friendship and growing up have been experienced and enjoyed. There are significant memories associated with the places where we have lived, and memories are a most important part of our lives. Perhaps Dad built the house, or we say to ourselves, “This is where we came when we were married, it was our first home. Dad carried me across the doorstep, and we have been so happy living here.” Do not minimise the wrench it takes to move away from the place in which we invested our lives and the lives of our children. For many of us the answer to the question, “What about housing: where shall we live?” is, “Stay put.”
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