A while ago, David Halpern from the Behavioural Insights Team talked of the under-occupation of houses and the desirability of pensioners returning to work to combat loneliness and early mortality. The Saga (over 50s) group replied that it was outrageous social engineering for the Government to suggest that older people don’t deserve to live in their own homes.
I suppose what the Government would prefer would be for all people living alone in what used to be their family home before their partner died and the kids moved out, to move into a one-bedroomed property and give up their home to a family, thus doing their bit for the housing crisis.
Before he died, it was suggested to my uncle by his daughters that he might benefit from downsizing to a little retirement flat near to them. Both his daughters had been born in the 3-bedroomed house where he had lived with my aunt for 52 years. My aunt had died 5 years’ previously, but my uncle hadn’t wanted to remove any of her clothes or other personal belongings. Every time we went there her paints and canvasses were still laid out on the table where she had left them. Her clothes still hung in her wardrobe, but the house had a bleak feel to it. Uncle Stan sat in his armchair, depressed and lonely and refused to move out of the house which held so many memories for him and where he had raised his family. Within 18 months of her death he had changed from a sociable, outgoing man into a thin shadow of himself, barely eating and wracked with Alzheimer’s disease. His daughters did what they could, but both worked and did not live near to him.
Would the Alzheimer’s have taken hold so soon if he’d been ensconced in a retirement complex where he saw the warden and other residents every day? His daughters could have visited more often too. However, Uncle Stan did not want to move from the home he had lived in for over half a century.
I can sympathise with both sides of the story. Elderly people do not like change, especially having to uproot and leave all that is familiar – and why should they? Stan had worked all his life to pay his mortgage and provide for his family – why should he have to leave the house he loved just because his daughters wanted him to? He was in his home, where he felt safe and comfortable. Reminders of Aunt June were all around him, and indeed, there he stayed until his death in February 2017, lonely and just existing until the Grim Reaper came to take him away. He eschewed carers, and it was left to neighbours to pop in with meals on the days his daughters were not able to visit.
On the other hand, in a little retirement flat he could have had more visitors, and the warden might have even persuaded him to receive Meals-on-Wheels. Who knows – he might have lived longer and maybe even staved off Alzheimer’s disease. However, would he have been any happier, after being removed from all that he knew?
It’s a tricky one. My grandmother was forcefully uprooted at the age of 70 as her East End house was due to be demolished. She cried for a year, but eventually got used to her new one-bedroomed council flat. My mother Dot had 3 house moves in her final 10 years, but as I was nearby for all of them and could visit every day, it didn’t hit her as hard.
There’s no hard and fast answer to this one. I thought how I would feel if I’d lived in a house for over 50 years and then somebody asked me to move. Would I move if I was mobile enough and in my right mind? Hell no! If I was not so mobile I probably would agree to carers and Meals-on-Wheels though, if of course there are going to be any left after council cutbacks. If not, then disability might force me to buy a retirement flat, but I certainly wouldn’t be too happy about living in a pygmy home barely big enough to swing the proverbial cat.
What about you? Would you downsize if you were elderly and the only person left in your family home?