When Should an Elderly Parent Leave Their Home?
The world was captivated by the story of 82-year-old Masafumi Nagasaki who left civilization in 1989 for a life of solitude on the little island of Sotobanari Island, Japan. Nagasaki became known as the ‘naked hermit’. On this remote island where there was no running water; water for bathing and shaving came from rain collected in some battered cooking pots. Within a year of moving to the island, his clothes were washed away in a typhoon. He spent his days stretching in the sun, cleaning his camp and trying to avoid insect bites. The island was where he wanted his final resting place to be.
“Finding a place to die is an important thing to do, and I’ve decided here is the place for me,” he said.
“It hadn’t really occurred to me before how important it is to choose the place of your death, like whether it’s in a hospital or at home with family by your side. But to die here, surrounded by nature — you just can’t beat it, can you?” he tells Reuters in 2012.
Nagasaki loved the island of Sotobanari—it was that thin space between heaven and earth.
In April 2018, Nagasaki was evicted from his home. Japanese officials removed Nagasaki from the island and returned him to civilization, because someone had seen him looking weak and frail. Now, Nagasaki cannot return to his idyllic island.
Nagasaki’s story sounded like a sensational Robinson Crusoe movie. But I was drawn to it because it was a story also about aging in place.
Aging in place, a term for aging at home, is a wonderful, practical and an effective retirement concept, until it doesn’t work anymore. And when does it not work anymore? When should an elderly parent leave their home?
There is no simple answer to this question, but here are some other questions for elderly parents and adult children to consider as they decide:
Is the elderly parent a danger to himself or herself?
Aging in place should maintain the quality of life for your parent. Can your parent still carry out necessary daily activities safely, such as cooking, bathing, using the toilet, dressing, and walking?
According to Lisa Pettinati, a social worker and the executive director of Intervention Associates, a professional care management service, the aging parent and adult children might not be adapting to changes until “life happens”:
“For instance, a lot of times we get calls from adult children, elderly parents, and usually there has been some sort of crisis. Mom has had a fall. Maybe dad passed away a year or two ago and mom is alone in the big house and she’s had a fall. All of a sudden, the adult children of mom really understand that she can’t live alone in this house without having support in place.”
Cases like this one are complex, requiring a thorough examination of the person’s life in order to find a solution. A part of discovering a solution is to ascertain how much support can be given.
Is there a support system in their community?
Leaving a home can be traumatic for an elderly parent who wants to remain. The National Institute on Aging suggests exploring other services to see what is available in the community to help them in their home—including home health care, housekeeping, personal care, and transportation services. This process can be extremely complicated; so Intervention Associates offers this service to help families make the right decision.
“We’ll look at her home, we’ll look at her finances, we’ll look at her support, we’ll look at everything that she has in her current life and then what we can do to meet her needs where she’s at. The most important thing for us is to really be compassionate and to try to understand—what is it that our clients want from their own lives,” states Pettinati in a podcast interview.
Loss of sight, hearing or memory loss, incontinence and depression are not automatic reasons to remove a resistant parent from his or her home. These conditions are not necessarily a normal part of aging. They are treatable; therefore, it is extremely important to carefully consider all aspects of the elderly parent’s life—including emotional and mental health—that can be remedied.
The parent may need support in staying in his or her home or moving into a more supportive setting. Every situation is different and there is no cookie-cutter approach.
Is it cost effective for the elderly parent to remain in their home?
In some circumstances, it may not make sense at all for a parent to remain in their home. Period. If it is not in the parent’s or the family’s budget, then it may be better for that older adult to consider other options. The home is your castle and safe haven in any storm; so this can be turbulent waters for the parent and adult child or children to navigate. “That’s where Intervention Associates come in and we talk about what’s important to them [clients], what environment would be the most comforting to them. We try to duplicate that environment; for instance, we find replacements that might meet those needs,” claims Pettinati.
I wonder if the Japanese authorities considered Nagasaki’s needs? Was Nagasaki a danger to himself? Were they able to duplicate his environment—the pristine beaches with its luscious vegetation? After being away from civilization for 29 years, I wonder if Nagasaki is able to emotionally and mentally adjust? We know the island had snakes, rats and annoying insects, and the other elements of nature, such as the weather. But did Nagasaki come to live in harmony with them as long as nature allowed?
If only there were easy answers to these questions. We do know, however, that Nagasaki may know best. That is why at Intervention Associates, finding out the need of the client is paramount to providing the best care possible.