As you grow older, is it your desire to age in place in your own home? As much as you might be tempted to answer that question with a resounding yes, the actual real-life issues that aging in place raises can be more complex, and require more thought and preparation, than many of us realize. Instead of asking ourselves if we “want” to age in place, perhaps a better question might be, “Is aging in place the right choice for me?”
That thought came to mind as we read this recent article on a website called Elder Law Answers. Clearly targeted as a resource for elder law attorneys like our own Rajiv Nagaich, the article went beyond the usual questions about making sure your house is prepared for aging in place (a topic we covered recently here on the Blog). Instead, the article touches on an array of factors you and your family need to consider as you make the choice to grow old at home. Depending on your health, your home, and the availability of local resources, it might turn out that aging in place isn’t the best idea after all.
What Does It Mean to Age in Place?
The article begins by defining our terms and laying out some pertinent statistics: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as a senior’s ‘ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.’ According to 2021 data from AARP, more than three-quarters of adults 50 and older say they would prefer to age in place.”
Since this is true, and most adults want to remain at home and in their communities as opposed to moving into assisted living facilities or nursing homes, it’s crucial that those who choose this path take steps to protect their physical, mental, and financial health in the process.
Are You Physically, Emotionally, and Socially Ready?
The choice to age in place is clearly a multi-factor decision. “Older adults must consider their physical, emotional, and social well-being when deciding where to spend their later years,” the article states. “They may consider adding supplemental services over time to help improve their quality of life.”
The article asks us to consider the following vital issues to make sure that you are properly supported during your entire lifetime. Without that support, aging in place could end badly.
Are You Able to Manage Chronic Diseases?
Chronic illness is very common among older people, and disease management is a vital aspect of aging in place. Illness can be the biggest determining factor in deciding if aging in place is the right choice.
The article provides the following things to be aware of in the event that you or your loved one has a chronic illness and still wants to age in place. Don’t decide to age in place without:
- Ensuring that spaces in your home are safe and easily accessible to make getting around easier;
- Learning about proper nutrition – too easy for seniors to overlook;
- Making sure you have access to dental health services. Research has found that proper oral care can help prevent the progression of many chronic diseases.
Eating Well is Essential While Aging at Home
We’ve written on the blog many times before about the importance of good nutrition as you age, and this article agrees. But the writers warn that aging in place may present certain financial changes that require careful budgeting in order to maintain the purchase and cooking of nutritious meals.
“If you find yourself in need of meals,” the article states, “community resources may be available. Neighborhood senior centers, places of worship, and charities may provide a hot meal while you make new friends. If you cannot leave your home, some meal delivery services drop off food at your door for little or no cost.” No matter what, healthy eating is imperative.
Impaired Mobility Demands Extra Support
Yes, you probably knew this topic was coming: exercise is also a vital part of a long and mobile life, especially when aging in place.
“Seniors aging in place need to be able to move around their homes and neighborhoods safely,” says the article. “Aging in place is a much more realistic goal if you can walk for exercise, access transportation to medical appointments and errands, and maintain a safe environment at home, free from increased fall risks.”
The article goes on to say that making simple modifications around the house can increase both mobility and safety, such as the installation of “handrails, temporary ramps, no-slip bath rugs, and assistive seating.”
What About Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Memory Care?
“An estimated 20 percent of older adults have a mental health disorder, and the total number of seniors with a mental health or memory care diagnosis is likely to increase over time,” the article states, and provides the following suggestions for addressing these concerns among older people, which we have included verbatim:
- Focusing on preventative care. Seniors and their caregivers should work with their primary care physician to identify warning signs of depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and memory care problems. Preventative care can help mitigate the progress of these disorders and improve quality of life.
- Looking for common signs of a substance abuse problem. This is an often-overlooked area of older adult mental health care. Older adults may turn to substances to deal with unresolved childhood problems or to avoid a feeling of loss of meaning and purpose. Some common signs to watch for include reduced hygiene, unexplained bruises, erratic behavior, and the smell of alcohol on their breath.
- If you are a senior’s caregiver and suspect substance abuse, you can find resources and support through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Building Social Connections Among Aging Adults
Humans are social creatures, and we benefit greatly from regular social connections and interactions. The article states, “People over 65 are likely to live alone, so creating a community outside the home is necessary. Feeling a sense of purpose is beneficial to mental and physical health.”
The article suggests a few ways to build community as an older adult, including joining an organization or club, volunteering for a cause you care about, learning a new hobby, attending a religious institution, adopting or fostering a pet, or using technology to stay in touch with family and friends.
Technology Can Bring Added Independence
That last method of connection, technology, can make a huge difference to a person aging in place. Tools and devices can not only help us stay connected, but also monitor health. “Many devices make detailed health information readily available at our fingertips,” the article states. “These devices benefit seniors because they can learn more about their health and make the most of doctor’s visits by communicating effectively about their medical needs.”
Some examples of wearable health and smart-home devices include:
- Smartwatches and smartphones: track your cardiac health, fitness activity, and sleep
- Medical alert bracelets/necklaces: aid in detecting falls or contacting emergency services
- Contact sensors and smart locks: devices that can alert caregivers when a loved one living at home leaves a window, garage, or door open, or has forgotten to lock them
- Smart plugs: automatically turn on and off lights, space heaters, thermostats, security cameras, and more
Money Management While Aging in Place
Money management is a huge concern for seniors and their loved ones and caretakers. If an older person wants to age in place, they need to ensure that they have enough financial resources to do so comfortably and be able to eat well, care for their medical needs, and also have a little fun!
“Creating a budget with the help of financial counselors and geriatric care managers can benefit someone on a fixed income,” the article advises. “There may even be volunteers in your area that offer a similar service. Being aware of how to prevent and avoid common types of scams that target the senior population is equally as important.”
How Can Caregivers Help Seniors Age in Place?
The article concludes, “Seniors often choose to age in place to remain independent and avoid becoming a burden to their family. Caregivers can support their goal by teaching them to use technology to communicate and track their health, helping them establish a budget, and setting them up with a routine that may include visiting their doctor, running errands, and making time to socialize.”
Caregivers can also help their aging loved ones by helping with hiring services for yard work, cleaning, cooking, laundry, or pet care.
We’ll end on the article’s words, simple but true: “Careful planning is the best way to accomplish your goal of staying home as you age.”
Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!
We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public. As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.
You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.
Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.
Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.
Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!
(originally reported at https://elderlawanswers.com)