About a month ago I went with my daughter Anna to a McCarthy and Stone development for retired people in Surrey. I expect that you have now jumped to the conclusion that I am contemplating selling my flat in Wimbledon in order to move into a purpose built apartment within a gated community of elderly folk just like me.
Well no, actually, I was just there on business because we are going to do a joint promotion with the marketing department of McCarthy Stone as we have a compatible audience.
However my visit has sparked thoughts about how challenging and difficult it is to know when and what practical steps to take to ensure a safe, secure but also happy older age.
The trouble is that neither you nor I have any idea what is coming down the track, and there’s the rub, because there are so many different scenarios that may play out over the next twenty years or so. If I am extremely lucky I will stay active and independent and then quickly pop my clogs in the manner of our dear late Queen. If I am just plain lucky I will have the odd inevitable health and wellbeing challenge which might limit me in some way, but not completely destroy my independence and ability to manage alone. If I am unlucky something will happen, perhaps quite unexpectedly, which means that I will then need some level of daily support whether at home or in some kind of protected environment. As there are so many unknowns, perhaps I should stop thinking about the future at all and just get on with my life and say (Suffolk expression alert) “that time come, that time care for.”
However, that’s not my style, so I thought I’d consider the pros and cons of three different approaches and maybe ask for your thoughts and experience at the end.
Three Possible Approaches to Later Life Living:
One: Change Nothing and Hope for the Best
This is the approach of some friends, a married couple in their late 70s, who are staying put in their large family home about two miles from a city centre. Big house, big garden, none of their ‘children’ nearby but lots of brilliant cultural activities that they love in a city they’ve lived in for over 40 years. Fortunately both are still able to drive. Some serious health scares, but both are currently well and active. I can see the attraction of this approach because for as long as possible you can cling to the notion of ‘life going on as normal’. Those four spare bedrooms might be empty for most of the time, but their offspring can, if they wish, descend at any time with all the grandchildren. Downsizing would mean a brutal reality check that those halcyon family days of bustle, noise, laughter and fun are gone forever and that loss may be really hard to confront - unless, or rather until, there is some crisis.
Two: Take Some Action and then Hope for the Best
This is my current approach.This time last year I had a largish house in France where I spent wonderful summer holidays with my friends and family, and a two bedroomed ground floor flat in Wimbledon. As I approached my mid-70s this started to feel untenable, especially after Brexit and Covid and the fact that my French house needed work. The decision to sell was not easy and was decidedly head over heart, but it’s one that I am so glad I took. I realise now that the weight of responsibility had become burdensome, so that since the sale went through, I have felt much more relief than regret.
Now I am about to ‘future proof’ my flat in the hope that it will better serve my needs for as long as possible. It’s already very well located within easy walking distance of a small park, great shops and the station, from which I can be in Central London in 20 minutes. The main drawback is the configuration of the rooms. The distance between my bedroom and the bathroom is very inconvenient for trips to the loo in the middle of the night. So I am having the wall removed between the two adjacent bedrooms to create one large bedroom and an adjoining bathroom with a good-sized shower. Then I can combine the current kitchen and bathroom into one larger, nicer space and update all my 20 year old appliances. With luck this new layout will fit my needs as long as I retain my mobility and marbles.
My house in France that I sold last year
Three: Go Early and Be Prepared for Every Eventuality
Again I know people who have taken this approach as they hit their mid 70s. They are also a married couple who decided to sell their family home to buy an apartment within a retirement community. They didn’t yet need all the facilities provided but they would be there if and when the time came. When I visited the McCarthy Stone development, I was shown a one bedroomed flat which was light, spacious and beautifully appointed. Whilst we had our meeting with the marketing manager, people were coming and going into a large communal lounge and chatting in groups over a cup of coffee. Later many more of the residents arrived for lunch, served every day in the cafe. While we were there the manager was called to give assistance to someone who was feeling unwell. She was given immediate attention and helped back to her apartment. The whole place was clean and bright with immaculate grounds, so why don’t I leave my two bedroomed flat unchanged and just buy a purpose built one bedroomed flat in such an ideal setting?
Because (and I do know how ridiculous this is going to sound!) I don’t think that I am old enough yet! My life doesn’t feel much different to the one I have been leading for most of my adult life. I am still working; I love pottering in my small garden; I pop into London from time to time for an exhibition or to meet a friend for lunch or the theatre; I see my two families of daughters, husbands and their children most weeks and am entirely happy living as I do, rarely bored and never lonely. I also struggle with the ‘ghettoisation’ element of such purpose-built communities. Does it sound ageist if I say that being almost exclusively around lots of other people like me every day would make me feel old and maybe even alter the way that I think of myself? The two hours or so that I spent at the residential community in Surrey convinced me of its comfort, security and convenience but it didn’t convince me that I would enjoy living there, although that might change if I was much more frail and vulnerable than I am currently.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts because this is a conundrum that affects us all as we move into older age. I sold my house in France at a time when I still had the capacity to deal with the complexities of the sale and the energy to clear the house of twenty-four years of accumulated ‘stuff’. With that sorted, I very much want to stay in my flat for as long as possible, so am hoping the improved layout will facilitate that. None of us can predict the future, but we can at least confront the idea that our needs might change and maybe discuss various options with our nearest and dearest. My next-door neighbour Rose died last year aged 94. She had lived in her flat, identical to mine, for about 40 years and I saw her often bustling down to the shops with her shopping trolley and pottering in her garden until a few weeks before she died. Rose is my inspiration. My fervent hope is that I have made the right decisions now to enable me to live as independently as she did until the very end. Fate may intervene, but at least I will have given it my best shot.
Please leave your thoughts below. I know that people who read my blog also love reading the comments and it would be interesting to hear how others are solving ‘The Moving Conundrum’.
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Hello, I have been on holiday, then got sick, hence my late message Trish, You have done the right thing staying where You are and having, as they, a 'refurb'. When my husband died in 2008 a neighbour, out of blue, asked when was I going to move! I informed this neighbour that, after living in my house (which was a new build at the time in the mid70's) I certainly wasn't going to move, where would I go, I have lots of very happy memories here - close families, children growing up etc. Eight-nine months after my husband past away I had subsidence, the monitoring lasting five years together and with renovations lasting altogether almost ten years. This gave me the incentive I needed to finally have all the things carried out to the house that my husband and I planned albeit not subsidence expected!! An extension built, my bathroom had a wall removed to make it larger and updated, cloakroom totally ripped out and modernised, bedrooms updated, in my bedroom my existing walk-in wardrobe was replaced with a modern built-in wardrobe and a small wall in my kitchen removed to make it larger and finally my garden had to be 'dug' up. All this happened in my mid70s (I am now 88) and still have no regrets whatsoever, and I certainly wouldn't want to move from Wimbledon even with the problems we are having with AELTC (say no more) You will not regret having the disturbance of moving out (that is the only thing I did regret at the time not being able to move whilst the work was being carried out) but we had great builders. I know when you are able to move back into your property you will love it and I wish you all the joy that I know it will bring you. Very Best Wishes Rita Kelly (Mrs) Please excuse Magnus Opus!)
Hi Tricia, I have never replied to one of your posts but from personal experience I felt compelled to tell you what I have learnt. I feel you are doing the right thing having your flat changed, staying where you are, working and keeping your social life going. It is so important for your health and wellbeing. I am 63 and currently live with my husband in a four bedroomed house with a large garden in a lovely Village in Sussex but from what I have seen from dealing with my parents care, we will downsize I would have thought, within the next ten years. Although as you say, we do not know what is around the corner for us. I have a friend who will be 90 at the end of December and she mixes with younger people because people of her own age make her feel old. She still teaches yoga, is more supple than most 30 year olds and has a social life which is enviable. Mum and Dad are both in their late 80's and said, when they were both of sound mind and reasonably fit (only four years ago) that they wanted to remain in their home until they went out in a box. Mum and Dad now have double handed carers go into their home four times a day to provide for all their care and they live in one room downstairs (their house is a four bedroomed house). I guess what I am saying is, your flat sounds perfect in location and for your needs and by changing it as you have suggested, you will be able to remain there. Keep busy and socialise because as soon as my Mum and Dad stopped dancing and socialising (they use to ballroom dance five times a week) they went down hill.
Hi Tricia - This is a subject that comes up a lot with my group of friends - most of us at the moment love our independence and living in our own homes of course while we can and like you make adjustments to suit our needs. Personally I would not like to live amongst a lot of other people in my age group - I prefer the company of all ages! X
We downsized fairly drastically four years ago moving into a market town from a village. It has been an excellent move. We no longer spend our lives in the car and I love living in a townhouse. Many of our possessions had to go but the important ones are here-photographs, the more important keepsakes, etc We have a terrace instead of a garden which is a relief as we were not gardeners with the best will in the world. The terrace is south facing and delightful. My husband is nearly 77 with some minor health issues so he no longer has to concern himself with the maintenance of a fairly large house. We have done this before we needed to which, in my view, makes it much easier- no regrets at all
My husband and I built our retirement home, a large lake home on 50+ wooded acres, in 2008. Theoretically, we moved in 2009. My parents had lived with us since 2001. My job took me two other domestic locations to live and my husband's to China. In 2015, my husband and I were able to come home and live the life we imagined. Over the last year, my husband has passed, my father has passed and my mother is now living with my brother. Now, I share my home only with my Irish Wolfhounds. I have said it would take a bomb to get me out of here.