The basic needs of older people will be satisfied if they are independent, useful, and interested.
I know how difficult family situations can become when old people must live under the same roof with their children. That is one reason why it is usually best for the elderly to maintain their own homes as long as possible. Often a room in a boarding house proves satisfactory if a house or home unit cannot be maintained because of the expense or the housework involved.
Entire communities have been organized to meet the special needs of the elderly. I urge older people to investigate these places, because many of them offer excellent facilities—physical, social, and medical. Before you agree to anything in writing, however, see your doctor, because you want to be sure that you are in sufficiently good health to settle in a new community, and because you want to ascertain that the medical facilities and staff will be adequate for your special needs. See your solicitor, too, because you should not sign away your property or income or commit yourself to a heavy financial obligation without being absolutely sure of what you are doing.
When ageing parents must live with their children, it is usually best not to separate them by putting the mother with one child and the father with another. Undoubtedly they enjoy each other’s company much more than you realize.
It is not easy for elderly people to divide their time among their various children, although this is usually the only fair arrangement. The difficulties can be minimized by establishing definite dates. Having a room of their own awaiting them, with some of their cherished possessions in it, adds immeasurably to the older couple’s feeling of security and independence.
Every effort should be made on the part of both generations to find means of achieving a degree of independence. Often, it is easier for a woman to feel she is paying her way than it is for a man, since she can help with the housework and the care of young children. But elderly men can be extremely useful, if enough time and thought are put into it. Hobbies, crafts, and ‘handyman’ skills often make it possible for them, too, to ‘earn their keep.’
Projects outside the home help to bring a feeling of independence and prevent the irritations of too much personal contact. Church, charitable affairs, and visiting someone, if possible on a regular weekly basis, are stimulating breaks in otherwise monotonous routines. Doctors, clergymen, and social service workers can often find a need for the older person to fill. This is particularly important for those who do not have families or friends whom they can serve.
In this chapter I have spoken very little of true senility, or morbid senility, as contrasted with normal ageing.