A Short Sale does not usually happen quickly and you do not have to drive backwards to get a Reverse Mortgage. Both are strategies to deal with mortgage debt, but which has the best benefit depends on your situation (and if you qualify).
A Short Sale is when the lender agrees to accept less than a full payoff of the mortgage balance. The lender gets a smaller amount than what is owed, but generally more than if the lender finished the foreclosure and sold the property themselves. The homeowner typically sacrifices his credit on the altar of getting the short sale done, but usually a Short Sale is not as bad on a credit score as a completed foreclosure lawsuit (or Bankruptcy).
A Short Sale is often best for the universe when a borrower cannot pay his mortgage—the bank receives more than they would otherwise in foreclosure, the homeowner gets out of a house he cannot afford and can start to rebuild his credit, and the neighborhood gets a new owner faster—instead of leaving the house vacant for months—which helps maintain property value in the area. Also the transaction stays local, benefitting the local economy—the vendors involved in the completion of the sale.
A Reverse Mortgage (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, or HECM) is for homeowners 62 or older who have paid off or paid down the mortgage on their primary residence. The program allows them to withdraw funds from the equity in their home in a fixed monthly amount or a line of credit or a combination of both.
My perspective on Reverse Mortgages is that it is not a product for everybody. To begin with, you have to be 62 or older (and there are other requirements), and there may be disadvantages, depending on your circumstances. However, sometimes a Reverse Mortgage is the best solution to help an older person on a fixed income to live more comfortably.
Short Sale and Reverse Mortgage are only a couple of tools in the toolbox to deal with mortgage debt. Competent legal counsel can help you review all options so you can decide which is best suited to your circumstances.