Want to Age in Place? Begin Planning Now!

Elderly woman relaxing on the sofa in the living room and reading a magazine.

Where will you be in 30 years? A lot of people should be asking this question. According to the National Institute on Aging, the number of Americans older than 65 is set to almost double—from today’s 48 million to 88 million by the year 2050.

If you are a younger or middle-age adult, maybe you’re under the impression that you would automatically move to a care facility if you were to develop physical or cognitive challenges in your later years. But it’s important to know that of today’s seniors, 90 percent want to stay in their own homes even as their care needs change, according to the AARP. Chances are good that you will want to, as well!

Our attachment to our home often grows through the years. You might hear an older adult say, “When I was younger, I wished I could buy a fancier place. But now, this is my home. It suits me.” We feel an emotional attachment to our familiar surroundings and the treasured possessions we’ve collected over the years. The neighborhood is familiar and we know our way around. We’re near the stores where we like to shop, our long time healthcare providers, our faith community. And when our adult children come home, it’s HOME.

But to successfully age in place takes some advance planning. Hand in Hand readers know quite a bit about this! Some are seniors living at home, whether home is a house, apartment or retirement community. Many other readers are family caregivers who are helping senior loved ones stay safe at home. Still others are professionals who have helped many seniors and their families deal with the changes that come with aging. These readers can all affirm that waiting to plan until a health crisis strikes is not the way to go! Long before the physical and cognitive changes of aging affect us, it’s important to consider our options. Here are some thoughts that might run through your head during the process:

“I want to stay home. Will my home be suitable for my needs?” Some seniors stay in the house, apartment or condo where they’ve lived for years. Others downsize to a smaller home, perhaps with single-floor living and no stairs. Studies even show some retirees today are moving into a larger home! While weighing the options, don’t think only of your current home as it meets your needs of today. Consider health changes that might come, such as arthritis, visual impairment, or the effects of a stroke, heart disease or memory loss. Some homes, frankly speaking, are just not a good fit for seniors with these challenges. A house with steep stairs indoors and out, or an upper-floor apartment in a no-elevator building, for example, just wouldn’t be adaptable. Some experts recommend moving sooner rather than later if that’s the case, so your next home will be your established home by the time your needs change.

“What could help my home be a better fit?” Most homes can be improved with adaptations. Considering a remodel? No matter your age or health, be sure to include features that adhere to the idea of “universal design”—updates that are both attractive, and accessible for people of every ability. Consider a walk-in shower, single-level living, wheelchair-accessible floors and doorways, a walk-in/roll-in shower, a no-stairs entryway and varied-height counters in the kitchen. (This such a hot topic that Architectural Digest recently covered it!)

Ensuring the elderly receive proper care

Many care support services can be provided in a senior’s own home

“Hmmm, that sounds pretty major. Are there any less expensive adaptations?” Sure. Some home modifications are more modest. You could add improved lighting, handrails, levers in place of doorknobs, and bathroom modifications such as a raised toilet seat, stronger grab bars and a shower chair. Contrasting colors on the edges of stairs and countertops helps seniors who have vision loss. And just keeping the home in basic good repair makes it safer and more comfortable.

“What about my neighborhood?” This too is something to consider. When it comes to aging in place, “location, location, location” holds true. Let’s start with transportation. While many seniors are able to drive well into their senior years, changes to vision, memory, flexibility and manual dexterity mean that many will have to give up the car keys, even though they still wish to remain active and engaged. What are the public transportation options in your neighborhood? How “walkable” is your neighborhood? Are shops and services nearby? Is it safe to be out alone?

“Who could help me if I need care?” For seniors with very complex care needs, living in a nursing home or assisted living community is often the best choice. There, a resident can receive medical and personal care. But today, many of these services can be provided in your own home. Skilled nursing services, including medication administration, wound care and chronic disease management, can be provided in your house or apartment. And much of the nonmedical help you might need can be provided by senior in-home care, including transportation, bathing, grooming, meal preparation and incontinence care. Even seniors who develop Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss may do best at home for as long as possible, in their familiar surroundings. Specialized care is available for these clients.

“What if my house gets to be ‘just too much’?” This feeling is one reason seniors choose to downsize or move to a supported living community. Suddenly, all those rooms to keep up with seem overwhelming. Yet, as you grow older, you may still like having the extra space. The kids will be grown up, and will want to bring the grandchildren for visits. To help with the upkeep, you can hire a cleaning service, landscape company and other helpers. And don’t forget that senior in-home caregivers can provide light housekeeping services and laundry.

There are always unknowns as we face the future, more so as we grow older. But making a flexible plan gives us the best chance of meeting those challenges and living the way we would like.

What else makes a great senior neighborhood? Give your brain a workout with the “A Senior-Friendly Neighborhood for Aging in Place,” in this issue of Hand in Hand.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2017.