As people age, there often comes a point where either the person aging or a family member or friend becomes concerned about their loved one being able to manage a home on their own. For the past few decades, the trend has been for family members to move aging loved ones into a care facility where they can get help with daily needs.
But for many aging adults, this isn’t a favored option. Many people prefer staying in a familiar place, in the home space they’ve created for themselves and where they feel most comfortable. In fact, according to AgingInPlace.org, 77% of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long term. That’s why, over the past several years, the idea of “aging in place” has grown in popularity.
To help us explore this topic, we chatted with Liz Sudberry, Director of Client Experience at TheKey of Ohio, the largest premium provider of in-home care in North America. Sudberry and her team are passionate about helping older adults live well in their own homes as they age.
What is Aging in Place?
Aging in place is simply the idea of staying in your own home, or the home of your choosing, as you get older. Rather than moving into a senior living community, assisted living facility, or nursing home, many people opt to age in a place that’s more familiar and feels more on their own terms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as, “the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean living alone or just with a partner who’s also aging. Part of aging in place, for many, means bringing help into the home so a person gets the support and care they need, right within their home—whether that’s a person to help with cleaning, running errands, home maintenance, or healthcare needs. Because another part of aging in place is being prepared for the changes that occur in your life as you age.
Is Aging in Place the Best Option?
Is aging in place the best decision for you or your loved one? It all depends on your situation. Sudberry says one of the major factors in making this decision is finances and how well people have prepared. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to age in place. “Very few [seniors] can afford to age in place with their own resources that they have accumulated,” she says. However, not only can Medicare and VA benefits potentially help, but there are also government assistance programs that can help lower-income individuals. Sudberry also says, “A third of our clients have long-term care insurance and that is what enables them to receive [TheKey’s] private care.” So, there are ways to make it work. One other way to make aging in place more affordable? Living with a child and sharing a home with their family.
Beyond finances, part of making this decision is taking the time to assess health, personal needs, and the space in which you or your loved one currently lives. Not only that, but you need to ensure you have access to the additional care and support needed when aging in place. All of these factors will help determine if aging in place is the best option for your situation.
You could also explore Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) if the traditional approach to aging in place isn’t right for you.
Common Concerns About Aging in Place
When deciding if aging in place is the right choice for you or your loved one, many concerns will likely arise. We’re taking a look at the most common concerns about aging in place and how to deal with them.
Declining mobility is a huge concern for people as they age. The risk of falling greatly increases as you age—in fact, Sudberry notes that falls are the number one cause of death for older adults. So, if you’re living in a private residence you want to make sure you’re set up for success as much as possible. For some, that simply means rearranging and/or decluttering a home to make walkways more wide and clear. This is important for any older adult, but it’s of particular importance for those who use mobility aids like canes, wheelchairs, walkers or rollators. For those dealing with incontinence, it’s particularly important to ensure that the path from the main rooms in the home to the bathroom is clear.
Beyond navigating the home space, it’s also important to consider how you or your loved one will get around within the community. If you can still safely drive your own vehicle, this is less of a concern. But those with diminishing eyesight or mobility need to consider accessibility to public transportation or senior transportation services, or if you have a loved one who is willing to drive you to appointments and on errands. To have a positive experience with aging in place, it’s important that a person not be homebound and isolated.
In connection with getting around and ease of movement within a home, it’s important to consider if modifications can be made to a home to help the physical space be more aging-friendly. “Home modifications are super important,” Sudberry says. “But you want to do a little bit of shopping around when it comes to home modifications because you don't want to overdo it and you don't want to underdo it.” Modifying your home could look like adding grab bars to the bathroom or a ramp going up to the front door. While a home being accessible can be a major concern, with a few modifications a person may find their home to be a much more comfortable space to live. Sudberry suggests going to homemods.org or help4seniors.org for home modification resources.
Some older adults, as they age, experience growing concern about physical safety within their own homes (as a result of falls or other household accidents) or within their neighborhood if crime rates are high in their area. Others feel vulnerable to salespeople or scammers who may call or knock on their door. It’s important to acknowledge potential safety concerns and address how one might deal with those situations if they arise.
Read Next: Dementia and Incontinence: How to Cope
Getting Help During the Day
You or your loved one may not need the constant care found in nursing facilities—but that doesn't mean you feel comfortable getting through each day without any help. Some seniors feel concerned about health issues and the assistance needed to deal with them, while others feel unable to prepare healthy food or keep their house well-maintained. For these concerns, you can look into bringing help into the home.
Home health aides and nurses can offer medical assistance, and you can also hire handymen, cleaning services, or personal chefs. (For those who still feel comfortable using the kitchen, meal kits are another great way to get simple, nutritious meals delivered right to your door which are pre-portioned and ready to prepare.) For some families, this may also look like a family member serving as a live-in caregiver and using adult daycare services when needed.
Toileting and Hygiene
The bathroom can be a big source of anxiety for aging adults—even those who feel otherwise fairly independent. The risk of falls often increases when bathing or using the toilet, and if elderly incontinence is part of the equation, cleaning up after an accident can feel daunting.
Bath safety products like grab bars, bath benches, and raised toilet seats can help. Of course, sometimes the concern comes from a family member who’s worried about a loved one maintaining their health and hygiene on their own. In all these cases, it’s important to speak openly and honestly about concerns and needs in the realm of toileting and hygiene so you can find the help and resources needed to address these concerns.
Think aging in place is the right choice for you or a loved one? Check out our guide to aging in place, with tips to help you get started.