Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Aging in Place

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 Need extra help, but not ready for assisted living? Here, some expert advice for aging in place.


Q. My mother is in her late 80s and her memory and health are failing. She lives in her house with a lovely man who is 92 (they both lost their spouses years ago) and they’ve been taking care of each other for the past five years. But things have gone downhill this year and my husband and I think neither of them is capable of living alone. My mother has wandered off and been gone for hours, unable to remember how to get home. Her partner has done the same thing. We’re very worried, plus we live in a different city that’s a five-hour drive away. We’ve been going back and forth and trying to help from a distance, but I still work full-time (I’m 59) and it’s exhausting. We know in our hearts the time has come for them to move into assisted living of some kind, but they refuse. We’re their only family in Canada. What should we do?

Marion, Belleville


A. Get a live-in housekeeper. That’s what Dr. Gloria Gutman advises. She’s a B.C.-based scholar, writer and an international authority on gerontology. “That would be my very first suggestion. It will cost less than moving them into assisted living, plus then they get to stay in a familiar surrounding and they’re still in control, which is very important.”

Ideally, she says, it would be someone who has worked with older people before. Dr. Gutman emphasizes it’s vital your mother and her partner get the right kind of housekeeper, or caregiver as they tend to be called these days; someone who likes older people and is a sensible, reliable person. “Well meaning relatives often get frantic,” Dr. Gutman acknowledges. “They freak out and the first thing they think is ‘Oh my God, we must move them’ – which could well kill them both because then you’ve got relocation stress and all sorts of other issues, including much higher costs.”

First determine the level of support they need and discuss it with them. The next step would be to approach their local health authority or continuing care organization to get recommendations on finding suitable candidates.

“Some people are very willing to move into assisted living. Others are not,” says Dr. Gutman. “If they’ve been living independently and they still want to do that then the best option is definitely a live-in housekeeper. A lot of people think it’s either my own place or a care facility, without thinking about the things that are in between.”

Dr. Gutman says people often know themselves when they can’t manage on their own. As for the safety concern of your mother and her partner getting lost, there may be some issues of memory loss but if it’s not too far advanced and they’ve got a live-in person he or she can also function as a companion, someone who can take them out together and keep an eye on them. Remember, for most of us independence is a cherished state of being.


Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.