Christine Webber

This is the time of year when big decisions tend to be taken. 

The green shoots of recovery, the lighter evenings, and a realisation that we’ve 
weathered the storms and can look ahead to some sunshine, all seem to contribute to a sense of restlessness that sparks change. 

As we age, we have different decisions to contend with, compared with those of our younger selves.

They tend not to be about our career, for example, but they are significant nonetheless and are likely to determine the direction of our older years. 

One of the big ones is whether or not to downsize. We get anxious about how much clutter we have and remember what a chore it was to clear our late parents’ homes.

We also worry about leaving similar chaos for our own kids.

Also, we may come to realise that the house we’ve loved for years feels too much to cope with, or we become more aware of how cold it is, or how expensive to maintain. 

Is this, or something like it, on your mind this year?  

Or perhaps you’re beginning to wonder how much longer you can continue to live independently? This is one of the biggest landmarks in terms of ageing.

But when there are repeated suggestions from the extended family that you should come and live with them, or consider sheltered housing or an assisted living project, you can bet your life they’re beginning to worry about your ability to continue as you are.

Many of us comfort ourselves with the thought: “I’m not at that stage yet”. But comments from younger relatives often force us to recognise that other people believe we are.

And if we’re also feeling uneasy about our living arrangements, then we need to take notice of our own emotional disquiet as well as the concerns and advice from others. 

We should also think about the strain we may be putting on our adult children.

If we live more than a short car ride away from them, they’re likely to feel increasingly stressed about how we’re managing and how, as things deteriorate, they will find time to fit more care for us into their already hectic lives.

Their thoughts may also be coloured by the cost-of-living crisis. Many families, particularly post-pandemic, are venturing into multi-generational living, because it ticks so many boxes including economic ones. 

In many ways, it makes sense.

One household with only one lot of bills instead of two. Plus, everyone has more company, and you can help with grandchildren and enjoy spending time with them, but if you have a fall, or become ill with flu or whatever, your family can care for you. 

You may have some essential stipulations – such as wanting your own bathroom or kitchen – but maybe you should at least start to discuss and evaluate what might work and be possible. And also, take a real look at how much you might reduce your outgoings.  

Of course, you may not want to live with family. Or you may not have one. And then your idea of change might be more about when you should consider some kind of supported living option.    

I remember being very impressed by the attitude of the eminent writer and editor  Diana Athill  who took herself off to an apartment in an assisted living project for the “active elderly” at the age of 90.

She knew it was time and said: “Almost at once on arrival at the home I knew that it was going to suit me. And sure enough, it does. A life free of worries in a snug little nest....".  She lived for a further 11 years.

If you sense therefore, that you should perhaps start thinking about downsizing, or your ability to live independently, this could be the season to do it. 

So, what might stop you? 

I think many of us worry we will make the wrong decision.

But I have good news for you on that front. There’s been a lot of research about decision-making in older people which has established that though we may be declining cognitively to some extent, we compensate for it because we have skills in making decisions that younger people don’t have. Why?

Simply because we have more experience of doing it than they have. 

We are, apparently, also much better at settling for a pragmatic option that is “good enough” rather than agonising over how to find the “perfect” solution.

Scientists call this “satisficing”.

And it seems that being a satisficer, and able to modify expectations in this way, makes us more contented as people.   

 It has certainly perked me up to learn that our age and experience help us make good choices as we grow older. In fact, I would say it’s a real bonus!