Getting old brings many problems that we don’t want to admit are or will be an issue. I am just being brutally honest.
This is one of the most difficult posts I have ever written, something I never thought would be a subject that I would be writing about, and it is a bit longer than I wanted it to be when I started. Even so, please take a few minutes to read what I think is an important post.
Facing the facts regarding what we can do versus what we think we can still do when we get old, is something that most of us will avoid admitting until we have no choice about doing so.
If you look closely driving around your neighborhoods, you will see certain properties beginning to not be kept in the same manner they always have been. Things are beginning to look more rundown, and you don’t see that old fella or gal outside working like they used to.
Then as you drive by it one day, you think to yourself, I wonder what happened to the old person I used to see outside, and why it now looks so rundown. Finally, when did that For Sale sign suddenly appear?
Many times the answer is — the people who lived there got old.
Then they couldn’t take care of their home like they used to. Physically they stopped being able to do the work themselves. Then financially they couldn’t afford to keep up the necessary maintenance, attempted to delay what they could, or made do with what they had.
I see it every day as I drive around the local towns.
The homes of those getting too old to take care of their homes.
Recently, this issue was brought home in a way that was very personal and made me stop to think about how we will deal with this issue in our not-so-distant future.
A Bit of Background
Over the summer we got to know an older gentleman and his wife, who are both close to 80. Their children are not local and not involved in their lives (blended family kind of thing) and have gone their separate ways. From what I can tell, they don’t come around too often. They have busy lives and the older couple make do with what they have — each other.
In other words, they are pretty normal for this era of human history where families are separated by divorces, distance, and not enough time.
Earlier this summer I had done a few things around their house and I had promised to help out with figuring out what was wrong with his heating system. Last week I went over to their place to get an idea of what needed to be done.
When I opened up the skirting and saw that there were going to be big problems.
While I was able to do a cursory look at the problem areas that day, I wasn’t going to risk going underneath the house without wearing a respirator. There was loose fiberglass insulation and the unmistakable animal odor and droppings were quite evident.
However, there was an even more pressing problem than looking at the heating system that day. Which is such an important consideration, since it is almost winter in Maine.
When I went up their steps, I saw that many of the boards were rotted and others no longer attached properly to the risers. They needed replacing immediately before someone was injured. When I finished the emergency repairs that night, I told my friend that we would come back and look closer at the heating ducts and do some work around the yard the next weekend.
What We Found
I went over to their place on Saturday morning. While under the house, I could see that critters were getting through the holes in the skirting of their double-wide trailer. It also appeared that someone had attempted to jury-rig something with the heating system a while ago, and left a gaping hole in the plastic sheeting. This resulted in critters shitting and pissing on the exposed insulation and the insulation pulling completely away from the floor. The only thing holding the insulation off the trailer pad was the plastic sheeting that was barely hanging on in places.
From what I could see, after the plastic sheathing hadn’t been properly closed, animals had gotten in and wreaked havoc with the ductwork, (which wasn’t great, to begin with), and the insulation.
There was a 3-4 foot gap in the primary hot air flow duct, coming off the central hub, and some kind of blockage somewhere in that duct (so even though the heat was running, very little hot air was coming through). There was no insulation under the floorboards. The smaller heating duct that supplies the hot air to the heating vents by the exterior walls on that side of the house is full of holes and was not even hooked up to the main duct.
Lots and lots of issues.
I did a temporary repair, but it wasn’t much.
As I told them the news, you could see the dismay, worry, and downcast looks on my friend’s face. Which became even more evident as I told them that this repair was beyond anything that I could do. That “what will I do now” look was on his face.
At that point, I had to go home and get some more equipment for work that I saw needed to be done. Plus my wife had said she wanted to come out and help in the afternoon, after she finished running errands that needed to be done.
While at home, I did some research and was able to give them names and phone numbers of organizations to contact to see if they qualified for help to get their heating system fixed via email.
I felt horrible that that was all I could do, but it was simply beyond my ability to fix things under their house. The good news is that I spoke with him today and his insurance company is sending out an adjuster on Wednesday and the local KVCAP agency is coming out Friday. So there are help options in place, I just hope that one of them comes through and fixes his heating system.
Still More To Do
We did replace all the broken skirting panels (about 10 of them), since I had spares and was able to cut them to the proper size. Hopefully, that will slow down a few critters from getting inside.
At one time you could tell that their yard was quite vibrant, by the remnants of flower beds, shrubbery, fruit trees, and the many decorations that were now rotting away in the back.
The rest of the day was spent doing a bunch of general yard maintenance, weed whacking, raking, and cutting out the overgrown shrubs and trees. A trip to the local transfer station to get rid of an old metal swing and miscellaneous “stuff”. Then I used my pole saw to cut branches on the big pine in front of their house so you can walk under it and see up the driveway. It should be cut down, but it is too close to the powerline and too big for me to play with).
No, I didn’t take any photos of the outside of their home, because I respect their privacy and dignity. They are proud people and are not at all happy with the current condition of their home.
What We Learned
At some point in the not-so-distant future, they will not be able to maintain their house due to their physical and financial limitations. Then what happens to them? What happens to their home – another For Sale sign, when they are shunted off to an assisted living or other care facility?
I wrote this as an example of what tends to happen to too many people as we age.
It is an ugly truth that too many turn their head, look the other way, and attempt to not notice what is happening around them.
The fact is that due the decline of physical and mental abilities, along with limited financial resources, that many older people are no longer able to maintain their homes in the manner that they have in the past. Much less do basic maintenance items they used to and most others now take for granted.
It happens every day.
It is also so sad that it does.
At some point in the next 10-15 years, we are going to be in similar circumstances regarding our physical abilities to maintain our home in the manner we are used to. We are not rich and as everything costs more, how will we fare economically on our fixed incomes is a question that we don’t have answers for and do lose sleep over.
It has made my wife and I think about how and what we will be able to take care of in the future and when possible, take the time now to make things lower maintenance for later. We started a few of those projects this week and it isn’t easy, but at the same time, we now know how necessary certain changes are needed – for when we get older too.
Even so, at some point our home will start down that path of slow decline and become what more like what I saw this weekend at my friend’s home. Like so many other homes of older people around this area and other locations as well.
All we can do is prepare the best we can to make our home as low maintenance for the future as possible and then at some point whatever happens – happens.
Then we will continue to do the best we can.
How about you, do you have neighbors, parents, or grandparents whose homes are beginning to look unkempt, a decline in maintenance or yard work?
Is there anything you could do to help?
Sometimes simply offering to help is needed, because many of us old stiff-necked farts have our pride, value our independence, and HATE to ask others to help us. But, if you offer, your help might be gladly accepted.
Is there someone in your neighborhood who would welcome your help? Do you have parents, grandparents, or other family members who need a little extra help around their home?
Can you make the time to help?
Think about it.