Age In Place: Growing Older In Your Own Home
Moving from one home to another is not something older adults want to do on a regular basis. When people over 60 are satisfied with their current living situation, they would prefer to stay where they are as they get older.
Aging in place, meaning living where one chooses for as long as possible, is what many older adults aspire to do. Yet, many seniors do not realize what it takes to stay securely in their homes as they age.
“So many older adults want to be able to stay at home for as long as possible, but it just doesn’t seem as though most are really thoughtful about what that means and the sorts of ways in which they have to prepare,” Sheria Robinson-Lane, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Nursing, told HealthDay News.
Robinson-Lane co-authored a report on findings from the 2022 U-M National Poll on Healthy Aging. According to the poll, nearly 9 in 10 respondents between 50 and 80 years old said it’s important to age in place. However, nearly half of those respondents said they had given little to no thought to what they would need to do to remain safely and comfortably at home in their old age. The most common accessibility features that the randomly selected group of 2,277 poll respondents said they had in their homes were a bathroom and bedroom on the main floor.
Ramsey Alwin, president, and CEO of the National Council on Aging said it’s not surprising that many older adults have not considered the issues involved with aging in place.
“Folks want to age in their home, but the reality is they’re often living paycheck to paycheck, managing chronic conditions related to heart and diabetes,” Alwin told HealthDay News. “It’s one foot in front of the next for so many, just sort of putting out those immediate fires and making ends meet and trying to address their health and wellness.”
Because people have not weighed the implications of getting older, there is often no long-term thinking or planning—about aging. As a result, most people don’t realize the importance of making preparations to age in place.
Older Adults Face Many Challenges In Large Communities
Some older adults will find it more challenging than others to age in place because of where they live. For example, seniors living in New York City, which the U.S. Census says is the largest city in the United States, will likely face more challenges than older adults living in smaller communities.
In fact, Jeremy Kaplan, executive director of Encore Community Services, and Todd W. Fliedner, executive director of Bay Ridge Center, highlighted problems seniors face in an opinion article in Brooklyn Paper.
Kaplan and Fliedner, both based in Brooklyn and whose organizations provide services to older adults, said living in a city like New York will come with a host of challenges. For example:
- New York’s housing and transportation stock cannot adequately serve people with limited mobility or care needs.
- There are not enough ramps across the city, and elevators are either nonexistent or nonfunctional in many buildings, including walk-up buildings.
- Long-term care facilities are costly and not a preferred living option for people who want to age in their homes and communities.
Kaplan and Fliedner both urged support for a bill introduced last year by Justin Brannan, a New York City council member. The proposed legislation calls for installing cost-free protective devices for seniors and people with disabilities who live in multiple dwellings and provides a tax abatement for landlords making the installations.
While the bill is a “great start in removing barriers for older adults to age in place,” it is just “one part of the much larger effort needed to make our city livable for all,” Kaplan and Fliedner wrote.
What You Can Do To Age in Place
Aging in Place successfully calls for older adults to plan for the changes that come with aging. Aging-in-place experts recommend seniors consider these issues and what they can do to prepare for them:
Age-related and chronic health conditions, such as hearing loss, diabetes, heart disease, and decline in mental and physical functions, can affect an older adult’s ability to age in place. Depending on the senior’s health condition, a live-in caregiver or in-person healthcare professionals may be necessary to help with daily living activities, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and feeding. In addition, seniors who live alone may use wearable smart devices that monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and physical activity levels. Some devices can even detect falls and contact emergency services.
Cleaning service companies provide a variety of regular housekeeping services, such as mopping and vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes and doing laundry. Some housekeepers also go grocery shopping. Some in-home caregivers provide housekeeping chores, too.
Staying Physically Active
Staying physically active is one of the greatest challenges of older adults, especially those with mobility challenges and chronic health conditions. Physical activity can range from walking on a regular basis, taking weekly group exercise classes, and bicycling. Adults with mobility challenges should ask their doctors about the best way for them to stay physically active.
Staying Socially Active
Studies have shown that older adults who feel socially isolated and lonely are at an increased risk for a variety of physical and mental conditions. This is why it is important for older adults to participate in social activities, such as meeting often with family and friends, getting involved in local senior centers, joining a book, traveling, bridge, or other types of clubs, or volunteering in their community.
For many seniors, losing the ability to drive is a devastating loss of their independence. Fortunately, many communities provide shuttle services or taxi cabs that take seniors to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other places. Seniors may also consider using ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft.
In-home safety is paramount for adults of any age, but especially for seniors. Security experts advise seniors to set up home security systems and use medical alert systems in case of medical emergencies or falls.
In-home safety for seniors also involves remodeling their homes to remove barriers to accommodate medical devices and installing grab bars, shower chairs, raised toilet seats, adjustable beds, and other safety features.
Preparation for aging in place can begin in middle age, but it’s not too late for older adults to plan, either. Talking to geriatric care managers, learning about community resources, and finding out what type of government benefits are available to help seniors age in place are good places to start.
Robinson-Lane suggests that people begin strategizing about how they would like to age by making a list of the things that are important to them.
“First, consider if your current house is the house that you want to grow old in,” she said. “And if it isn’t, start to think about where you want to go.”