Above: Brandt Ross performs a musical interlude during his presentation of “The 4 Hazards of Aging in Place” at Emory University’s OLLI program. Photo by Donna Williams Lewis.

“It sounds so simple. It sounds so practical. Why not? Stay in the home you love and near the things you love. Many are telling you to do it. Therefore, it must be right, or is it?”

That’s how Brandt Ross introduces a new program of his that’s drawing large audiences around town — “The 4 Hazards of Aging in Place.”

Brandt Ross

The 82-year-old retired CEO, volunteer history teacher and folk musician became a super advocate of senior residences after his 2014 move to one of them with his wife, Ginny.

“It’s like a cruise ship that never leaves the dock,” he says, of their current home. The couple downsized from a 2,800-square-foot, three-story condo to a 1,200-square-foot Buckhead apartment featuring a wide range of activities, excursions, a restaurant-style dining room and a happy hour area.

In the process of moving, they shed everything from about 3,000 books to a full vanload of Ross’s beloved collection of baseball memorabilia.

“Every senior says, ‘I love my home,’” Ross said, in a recent presentation to about 100 people at Emory University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). “Bulletin: Your home doesn’t love you,” he said. “It served its purpose … but at a certain point in time it’s going to turn on you.”

Homes can develop costly issues over time, Ross reminded the audience at the OLLI program. Also, a home is a significant part of one’s net worth, and one that’s been modified for a senior’s needs faces a limited pool of potential buyers, he said.

Therefore, “Your Home,” tops his list of the hazards of aging in place. Here’s how Ross defines the other three:

  • Stuff — Your children probably do not want the “treasures” you’ve accumulated over a lifetime.
  • Family — Your family may end up having to make decisions for you, which can lead to disagreement and dissension.
  • Socialization — Interactive skills can decline as socialization may be reduced.

The story of Nancy

Ross moves from the hazards to suggestions on overcoming them in a program filled with straight talk and real-life “horror stories” of folks he knows such as the one about “Nancy.”

2016 — Nancy, age 73, was a retired, financially secure widow who lived in a large suburban home and was active in the community.

Her children both lived in the Midwest and had their own businesses and families.

2019 — Nancy fell and broke her hip. The surgery was unsuccessful. She is in constant pain. Her children convinced her she must sell her house and move. They spent one day “home shopping for Mom” and moved her into an assisted living facility. 

She is unhappy with no one to talk to, and the house is full of “stuff” and on the market.

Ross does recommend that seniors sell their houses, but he also strongly advises that they do it themselves, and that they select their new homes only after visiting many. “It is better for you to choose your own home—and when you are not under stress,” he said.

He was asked at what age this transition should begin. “Don’t wait. You can’t be on time,” he said. “You’ll either be early or late. I was five years too early but thank God I was.”

He suggests an action plan that ranges from getting your home professionally evaluated and inspected to downsizing possessions and deciding where you want to live based on what’s important to you.

Strumming his message

Ross’s program is softened with plenty of humor, his guitar and song. His first number was The Statler Brothers’ “The Class of ’57.”

“And the class of ’57 had its dreams.

We all thought we’d change the world with our great work and deeds.  

Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs.”

The music was a hit. The first question during Q&A was a request for Ross to play “When I’m 64,” by the Beatles. (He laughed, but politely declined.)

Ross’s new program is an updated version of the “Seniors In Denial” class he taught for several years at senior centers, senior residences and a string of adult education programs from Kennesaw to Decatur. “I decided that I had to become more aggressive in pushing seniors to take action,” Ross said.

His words hit the spot with Patricia Martin of Buckhead, who said she wished her husband had also attended the program. “I thought it was wonderful,” Martin said. “He’s been there, done that.”

Susan Stroud of Brookhaven agreed. “It was so useful, so many things to help you think through the process and things to consider, plus entertaining,” she said.

Learn more

  • To get a summary checklist of Ross’s suggestions or learn more about his upcoming programs, visit brandtross.com.
  • If your group would like a presentation of “The 4 Hazards of Aging in Place,” send an email to brandtross@bellsouth.net.

Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.