Age In Place: How To Do It Successfully
Shannon Griscom, a retired English high school teacher, cannot picture living any place else other than her house on Melville Avenue in Palo Alto, California.
Griscom wants to “age in place” in her own home. She realizes that moving into a senior residence may be necessary at some point since in-home care can be costly. But Griscom noted that a relative lives in a local assisted living facility that costs $12,000 a month.
“Here’s the thing: The word ‘control’ is such an illusion,” Griscom told Palo Alto Online. “We have to live with despair and uncertainty.”
While older adults may not be able to have control over everything that happens to them, there’s one thing they know for sure: They want to live in their own homes and remain independent as long as possible.
Aging in place is the ability to stay safely in one’s home and community, surrounded by loved ones, friends, and neighbors, as opposed to moving into an assisted living facility or other senior residence.
Seniors say aging in place will help them to better manage their life, maintain their existing relationships, and live in housing that they can afford. For example, older adults who responded to a survey by Today’s Homeowner said they want to stay in a home where the mortgage has been paid in full and enjoy an affordable living situation.
Housing costs are of genuine concern to older adults who want to age in place. For example, in a survey by the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), respondents said they were concerned about whether they could afford to live in senior living communities. What’s more, the respondents feared losing their privacy and independence. Surprisingly, some respondents said they would “feel old” living in a senior living community, an atmosphere they find “depressing.”
“We give ourselves a glowing review, as we should if we take pride in what we do,” ICAA founder and CEO Colin Milner told McKnight’s Senior Living. “But the glowing review dims a bit when you start to look at what the consumer—your potential resident—thinks. When the first word that comes out of their mouth when they talk about senior living communities is ‘old,’ you’ve got a problem.”
But, older adults who want to stay in their homes might also encounter issues, such as:
• Having finances to make their homes barrier-free and to install smart home technology
• Caring for a spouse with declining health
• Deciding whether to hire in-home caregivers or live-in caregivers to help with daily living activities
• Having reliable transportation to go shopping or to medical appointments, or run errands.
Aging in Place With the Help of Technology
Because of their determination to age in place, seniors are willing to use health-related technology, according to findings from a May 2023 analysis conducted by U.S. News & World Report. The technology that’s more popular among older adults are:
• Wearable medical or health-related trackers
• Hearing-assistance devices
• Services apps for grocery and food delivery
• Medical alert systems that connect to help in the event of an emergency
Using assistive technology, however, may not be as challenging to some older adults as making plans to renovate their homes to accommodate wheelchairs, going up and down the stairs, and removing other barriers to their mobility.
Making Homes Safer
Senior living experts say older adults typically put off home renovation projects until it’s absolutely necessary. But, it’s to their advantage to make improvements in advance.
“It is a lot easier to think about a time when you need things to be different,” Amy Goyer, a family caregiving expert for AARP, told Kiplinger. “There may be a day when I don’t drive, the stairs are going to be hard for me. It is really a good idea for people when they are well, active, and healthy to make the changes ahead of time.”
Some of the changes “aging in place” experts suggest older adults consider making include:
• Adding grab bars in bathrooms to avoid falls
• Leveling a shower with the bathroom floor so that there is no ledge to step over
• Installing raised toilet seats that can make it easier to sit down and get up to avoid slips and falls.
• Building a ramp for safely entering and exiting the home
• Installing smart home devices to operate thermostats, household appliances, lights, and other products.
Another consideration is whether to install a stair lift in a home with upstairs bedrooms. But, attaching a motorized chair that goes up and down a stair rail can cost thousands of dollars. Most seniors would have to pay out of pocket since Medicare does not cover stairlifts. However, seniors who receive both Medicare and Medicaid (the joint federal/state program for low-income individuals) may be eligible to have a stairlift covered with a Home and Community Based Services waiver, which is part of a state’s Medicaid program.
When it comes to home renovations, “aging in place,” experts recommend using contractors, interior designers, occupational therapists, and others who specialize in remodeling homes for seniors.
The National Association of Homebuilders has a list of Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) experts who offer their services for the renovation. AARP suggests veterans check to see if they qualify for financial assistance for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ home renovation programs.
As with routine home repairs, aging in place, experts recommend checking reviews before hiring a company or individual and make sure they are licensed by your state’s licensing authority.
AARP also offers a “Checklist for Aging in Place,” which Goyer says is very popular with people considering remodeling.
Staying in Touch
What is also essential to the health and well-being of older adults who want to age in place is staying physically active. Research has found that regular physical activity has the ability to boost brain health, help manage weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and reduce the risk of disease.
Staying active is so essential that the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults get at least 150 minutes a week (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity and at least 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening activity.
Of equal importance is staying connected with family and friends, as well as meeting new people. To do this, older adults may want to consider joining groups with similar hobbies or interests, such as a book club, a cooking class, or doing volunteer work.
Griscom said she has plenty of social interactions, and her friends live within walking distance of her home. “I try to keep my dance card pretty full. I try to keep connections with my neighbors,” Griscom told Palo Alto Online as she prepared to walk to a local park for a tai chi class.