Accommodating my Choices in Later Life: Bite the Bullet or Russian Roulette?

I’m a 65 and a half year old orphan. I’m a widow, retired and artistic, which means I can play all day at what some might call being a textile artist and I love it.

Presently I’m working on wearable art and am reinventing myself as an ageing ‘Fashionista’.  I’m of the generation who were told that life had never been so good. We were liberated, we had choices and as women, we had burnt our bras and were on the pill. We had it all, we had careers, we raised children, we owned our own houses, we travelled, technology made our lives easier and we had a newly formed NHS. Life is sweet but will my end of life years be as good?

Having attended Age Friendly Housing RIBA book launch with my architect daughter last summer and invited to share my thoughts on my future accommodation requirements, it’s taken a while to actually sit down and write this for the Housing LIN, my first ever blog. Why the reticence? Obviously having to seriously think about my own end of life expectations and coming to terms with one’s own mortality have played their part, but it’s much more than that. I had firsthand experience of my Mum’s last couple of years of life and it was awful. She was on what seemed like an endless merry go round of services that most certainly were not catering for her individual needs or dignity. It was a one size fits all and because of her financial situation she had to pay for the privilege, alongside people who had a free entitlement to the same services! My Mum took a very dim view of this. Besides paying what seemed exorbitant care home fees she also was paying for own home’s upkeep, gardener and cleaner. Even at the end she still had all intellect and was fully aware of everything going on around her. Some sort of mild dementia I feel would have been a blessing at that point in her life and she wouldn’t have had to understand the belittling attitude and condescendence afforded to her on a daily basis. I worked as a manager in Social Care for nearly 30 years and I couldn’t believe that this behavior still existed in some places although I understand that there are equally some very caring staff within the care and nursing services. Low pay and lower morale contribute to care careers being poorly embraced and this situation I fear will only get worse after Brexit.

So, here’s my dilemma, do I bite the bullet and buy into some sort of gated older people’s community where everything is seamlessly available depending on my needs and preferences? Or do I play Russian Roulette and stay in my downsized home and hope that I’m one of the 90% of people who never need supporting? Other considerations are one’s family, I would hate to be a burden in anyway to them, besides which they live at opposite ends of the country to me. Loneliness I know is a miserable killer, so being part of a community and having friends is of great importance as one ages. It is a vital part of life, along with one’s independence to make choices.

Do I buy into some sort of gated older people’s community where everything is seamlessly available depending on my needs and preferences? Or do I stay in my downsized home and hope that I’m one of the 90% of people who never need supporting?

Before the real need to consider my long-term future I and a group of friends romantically talked of pooling our resources and buying a large property - DIY cohousing. Everyone having their own apartment within it and as a consortium we’d employ staff to cater for our needs. However, this fell at the first hurdle as we couldn’t even agree on where such a property should be. In the centre of a town or in some picturesque country location. With the demise of the high street I’m in favor of the former on balance. People’s needs would advance at different paces and at different times, paying staff would be proportionate. How to manage this would be a nightmare and we’d decided that we would need a manager besides multitasking staff. As our chosen group died one by one what would happen to their apartment?

So, as I gaze into my crystal ball of my future, I’m keen to know what a future government’s plans might be for capping the cost of care, for those who would be self-funding. With the NHS and Social Care Services for older people on their knees and the Social Care Green Paper long overdue, what sort of realignment of services would produce a better product for me? Will euthanasia ever become legal in this country? What part would assisted technology play in my home? In Dorset I believe that they are trialing a totally practical and financially integrated service with the aim of keeping older people out of hospital and in their own homes. Early intervention being key for chronic illnesses and quick return to home after acute ones. Recipients of this service were very positive. Let’s just hope that it’s not yet another failed attempt at Care in the Community which failed miserably in the 1980s.

As things are, I have friends who have worked hard all their lives paid their taxes, amassed assets and they accept that they may have to pay for support in later years and hope that there is enough to leave a legacy to their families. Others have released the cash value of their assets and are having an absolute ball spending their children’s inheritance secure in the knowledge that somehow or other their future care with be met by the state.

One of my greatest fears is living in an institutional establishment as my home without autonomy and I plan to fiercely guard my independence to my last breath, even if it means setting my Spotify playlist on repeat for a year, wearing the most outrageous clothes and drinking a G&T from a cut glass serving bowl through a paper straw.

In short, I am your target buyer, all you’ve got to do is sell it to me.


Posted on by Carole Smyth

I understand this dilemma. I give talks on housing options for older people in an effort to help people make an 'informed' decision on planning for the future and not waiting until the dreaded crisis occurs and makes the decision for them. None of us have a crystal ball, but some of us know that where we are now isn't going to work with reduced mobility and care needs. Rightsizing is definitely worth thinking about.

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