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Carefully consider relocation plans

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Since it's the traditional vacation season, I hope you're taking some time off for yourself _ you need it! All of us need time off to get away from our main focus and get rejuvenated. Certainly for us as caregivers, its essential to take a breather to gain a new perspective.

I've had a chance for two great vacation experiences so far this summer. They were very refreshing events _ it was wonderful to connect with friends and family.

In May I traveled to Ohio, then on to Westchester County, N.Y., to stay with friends. In June, I visited my sister in historical Bucks County, Pa.

I lived in Bucks County after I married and then moved to Pelham and New Rochelle, N.Y., where our children were born. We moved to Florida when the children were in elementary school.

Young couples can do that. They can move rather easily; they adapt, build and establish new support systems. However, when retirement beckons, we need to pause and consider before we make another move. A whole new and different situation happens, one we need to examine very closely.

It was interesting for me to find that both my brother-in-law, Gene, and my friend, Roc, had retired early _ yet, their approaches to retirement were totally different.

Roc was "taking one day at a time" and had many short-range plans with possible options of working part-time in his area of expertise. He had plans for travel and certainly plenty of tennis. They spoke about moving, but I didn't see that as a real consideration for them.

My brother-in-law, however, was involved in some home improvements, getting their home ready to go on the market. They already had started to move some furniture to their summer home in north Vermont.

Retirement creates a new "freedom." But there is no true "freedom" unless we have a realistic support system in place.

I am with older people every day who are away from their roots in hometowns and communities where they spent most of their lives and raised their children. A lonely woman called me the other day from California where she hardly sees anyone all day long _ yet she has four daughters and their families who live in her hometown in another state.

With retirement "freedom," there is a tendency to pull up long established roots _ even moving long distances _ without first realistically facing and examining the spectrum of future needs.

We all have to consider our future support system _ and our emotional, social, physical, spiritual, psychological, caregiving and care needs. It's beneficial to look first at your realistic future needs, then build a lifestyle with supports.

Let's face it: You never know how many years of good health you have. Active people enjoying life in retirement is great, but it's dangerous to buy into the fantasy that you can live forever _ without ever becoming disabled, widowed, ill, or frail and needing help and support.

Some points to think about before you move or stay in your current home are:

If I could no longer drive, what would I do?

If I became a caregiver to my spouse, could we continue to live here?

Are there hospitals, clinics, doctors nearby?

If I could no longer shop, cook or clean, would I be able to stay?

Are there home services to hire? What happens if I don't feel safe taking a bath?

Are there assisted living facilities in my community if I need more help and need to move?

Are my family members near if I need their help and support?

For established roots in our community, there is no adequate substitute, yet the support by familiar people and details of everyday life are sometimes taken for granted.

It's best if we investigate before pulling up roots totally. Adapting happily to new surroundings can be a challenge, so it's best to move slowly _ your decision doesn't have to be concrete. If you're thinking of retiring where you vacation, spend the off-season there; always keep you're options open and research the move carefully.

Remember: Caregivers make the present moment count!

_ Ethel Sharp is executive director of Aging Matters, Inc., a non-profit network for family caregivers and elder care.