What a drag it is getting 70-something

A retirement home’s mailer claims that 72 percent of Americans go into assisted living or skilled nursing facilities for six months or longer.

But an “overwhelming majority” of their residents live independently in their own homes for the rest of their lives. Women new to retirement homes now in their 70s should plan to live to 105, and men to 102.

I want a different living arrangement in retirement than my parents had, a different arrangement from what I have now. But I’m hesitant.

My sister and I tried persuading our parents to move to a retirement home, but they always refused.

Whenever we suggested it might be easier than living at home, they would say, “We’re not that old.”

They had a paid-off mortgage and were living off their investments, and could afford a night attendant. It was less expensive than living in a retirement center, and they wouldn’t move.

But Dad broke his knee and Mom’s arthritis worsened. They couldn’t drive, and they stopped going to church, their supper clubs, the movies or Christmas parties.

Most of their friends had moved to retirement homes, and whenever Mom and Dad did leave the house, they rarely saw anyone they knew.

One of Dad’s friends took him to Kiwanis club every month, and someone from church brought flowers now and then — but otherwise they seemed to spend their days arguing about the thermostat or the television. Neither one of them seemed very happy.

They became no longer ambulatory and thus no longer retirement home eligible. They hired round-the-clock attendants, who stole them blind. They used my parents’ credit cards, forged checks on their investment accounts, pilfered groceries, and stole my father’s watch and my mother’s jewelry.

My father choked to death on a glass of orange jello-water one of the attendants was “helping” him drink.

My wife, Susan, and I are in our 70s. We have paid-up homes, and we pay taxes, insurance, utilities, a lawn service and a cleaning crew. We go to the movies every week and out of state about four times a year.

But she tires easily, and I have a serious equilibrium problem. I fall about twice a week, and staircases frighten me. Falling off a ladder would be a catastrophe.

This week Susan needed repairs to her refrigerator and air conditioner. She had to buy a new dishwasher. Her cable TV was out for a week. It was a defect in the power line to her house and didn’t cost anything, but it was enormously aggravating.

This year we spent more than insurance reimbursements for new roofs, windows and sliding glass doors. Her driveway needs replacement. I managed to repair a leaking toilet, but it was very difficult.

Her birthday party was beautiful, but we spent days repainting lawn furniture and planting bushes to make it happen.

My 80-year-old cousin says we should move into a community while we’re still able to make new friends. For her husband’s 80th birthday, she simply asked the maître d to plan a private dinner for 30, and he did.

If we buy in to a retirement home, or even a simple condo, we might never see our cash again. There would be association fees and yearly maintenance assessments. Retirement homes require meal plans and have yearly price increases.

And a lot of people in these places are truly demented — which is no sin but sometimes it can be a little hard socializing with them.

So I asked some retired friends: Are you planning to stay in your house “forever”?

It’s not such a bad idea if it’s all paid-up and you don’t have to worry about staircases — but what happens after you get dotty and vulnerable to charlatans selling driveway stain removers?

An attorney and a psychiatrist said they consider their present circumstances manageable. As the psychiatrist said, “Our basic plan for the future is denial. Good luck to all of us.”

An engineer’s wife said move now, even if it takes six months to empty our houses.

If we find we didn’t need something after that long a time, we obviously should throw it away.

A bond salesman said that church-sponsored retirement homes are less elegant but more likely to survive a poor economy than for-profit ones, and that retirement homes more than 10 years old have a more stable and permanent staff.

But what’s first on my mind right now is “How much will it cost to get out if I don’t like it?”

No wonder seniors are so crabby. Growing up is not for sissies.

Dr. E. Noel Preston is a retired pediatrician who lives in Atlanta.