Staying Put at 96

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As Americans live longer, a rethinking of old-age care aims to keep people at home. A son watches nervously.
May 6, 2006; Page A1

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Days after a February blizzard, Virginia Lawson sat by her living-room window and surveyed the drifts that made her a prisoner in her home. Nearly two feet of snow fell but no one came to shovel her driveway, she recalls, and the woman who helps her with chores didn’t make it to work. The streets emptied and neighbors on either side were gone. Her only son lives in Boston.

So Mrs. Lawson, who is 96 years old, took a shovel and began clearing a small passage to her door. “The snow was very soft. I don’t lift it, I simply push it,” she says. “Somebody could come to see me, and they would need a path.”

Wearing her usual worn sweatshirt over sweatpants, her white hair in a self-styled pageboy, she then went back inside, plopped into her favorite armchair, and waited for the visitors who never came.

As Americans live longer, a rethinking of widely accepted notions about the elderly is under way. It ranges from when a person must retire (does it make sense to stop working at 65 when you could live to be 95?) to where people should live if they become incapacitated (does it have to be a nursing home?). Central to this thinking is a shift toward helping elderly people who want to stay in their own homes and communities, even if they are alone.

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