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Article as seen in Anderson County Visions Magazine, July Issue.

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"Aging in Place"

These are some of the typical scenarios that an ever growing portion of our society is facing.

  • “I live in Arizona and my parents live in Knoxville. I need someone to assist them in moving from their home into a retirement apartment. They have forty years of stuff in their house and I can’t be there to help them.”

  • “My husband and I both have demanding jobs and we have two active kids. My Mom is having a hard time managing her home, so we have decided to move her into an assisted living facility. She is overwhelmed, but doesn’t want our help.”

  •  “I have lived in this house for thirty years and would like to stay. I have too much clutter, I need to make some changes so I can reach things, and maybe move my rooms around.” 

Whatever the scenario there is a common goal, to create and maintain a better quality of life with age. AARP has stated that 20% of our population will be over 65 by the year 2020. 84% wish to remain in their homes and “age in place”.  This topic has become near and dear to me as I have become more involved with older adults and their families who are using my services as a professional organizer to help them deal with these issues. I am happy to say that the services and options that are becoming available are progressing at a rapid pace.

Options relating to independent living are now part of our national health care reform. Terms such as “intergenerational or lifespan design” and “barrier free design” are becoming part of home design planning. Private duty agencies and eldercare services are becoming more common. Agencies such as the non-profit Aging with Dignity Agency have been established to provide practical information, advice and legal tools needed to ensure quality of care. Another example is The National Council on Aging (NCOA), a network of organizations and professionals serving older adults through research and advocacy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now offers a kit to help plan long term care (www.longtermcare.gov/campaign/). These are only a few of the many services, organizations and agencies that serve as advocates for aging in place.

The scenarios I mentioned are typical. Each individual household is different; therefore everyone will have a different approach. It involves recreating space so that it best meets present needs and in some cases, enables an older adult to live more comfortably in a smaller space, often with downsizing. It is also typical that family members are in several different locations and unable to be “on hand” for immediate or long term assistance. Most families find it very hard to “get started” until there is a crisis, especially if it entails dealing with rooms full of possessions and years worth of accumulation.

Obtaining professional help can be a savings of time, money, stress and family relationships. Professionals are encouraging families to deal with these issues before there is a crisis. This should include having personal documents and vital information in order, as well as addressing physical needs. Various resources are available to help with this, such as; “The Senior Organizer”, by Bitticks, Benson, and Brenner and  “Five Wishes”, an easy to use legal document that lets adults of all ages plan how they want to be cared for (available at fivewishes@agingwithdignity.org). It is important that a least one family member or friend be aware of how to step in and run the household and affairs if needed, resulting in a smooth transition.

The check list can include such things as:

  • A list of names and phone numbers of important people (family, doctors, accountant, lawyer, etc.

  • Current medications

  • Allergies

  • Bank accounts, investments, savings, (and don’t forget to include the safe deposit box info)

  • Paying bills Location of business files, & who is responsible

  • Insurance information

  • List of important papers & location (wills, insurance policies, powers of attorney, etc.)

  • Procedure in case of death

When faced with the need to downsize, it is so much better to start the process gradually and have control of what needs to be changed than to be faced with having to make hasty decisions under stressful situations. People actually use 20% of what they own but feel like they are owned by their possessions. They are overwhelmed at the thought of having to tackle this kind of task. However, it can be an exciting and positive change. Obtaining assistance from family, friends, and professionals can save time, money, and relationships. If unsure of where to begin or how to accomplish the needed tasks, finding assistance through various agencies, organizations, and professionals can help with long and short term goals. People want to lead independent, dignified lives as long as possible. Older adults don’t want to be managed; they just want a little extra help so that they can continue to manage by themselves, for as long as possible. “Youth is a gift, aging is an art”

About the author

Betsy Peterson is a local professional organizer and owner of Space and Time, LLC. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and specializes in home and office organizing, downsizing, and staging. She can be reached for questions at (865)- 207-7295 or by e-mail at bpeterson@space-and-time.com.

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