Have You Thought About Aging in Place at Home?
Most of us prefer to stay in our own homes and communities as we age rather than move to assisted living communities or nursing homes.
But have you thought about whether or not you want to remain at home as you age? I have – a lot. I want to stay in my house where I raised my children, hosted holiday and birthday celebrations, and am familiar with the community and local stores. It’s familiar, cozy, and comfortable. Why would I want to leave?
I am not alone. According to a 2021 Home and Community Preferences survey by AARP of 2,826 U.S. adults, about 75% of people over age 50 want to age in place for as long as possible. But research shows only 10% of U.S. homes currently have key features to safely accommodate older residents. Some people build homes these days according to universal design concepts, but few older homes are conducive to individuals aging in place. That means you need to think in advance about how to prepare our houses to comfortably remain in our homes. Otherwise, you may not have the option when the time comes.
Considerations of Aging in Place
The 2022 University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging sampled U.S. adults ages 50-80 about their perspectives on aging in place, their homes, and available social supports. The study suggests that while most older adults want to remain at home as long as possible, a large percentage do not currently have common accessibility features in the house. In addition, almost half of those surveyed reported they have given little, if any, thought to home modifications that may become necessary in the future.
None of us want to think about future disability needs. I get it. I often try to talk to friends renovating their homes about considering adding accessibility features. Why wait? The additional cost is minimal if done while renovating and will be more expensive to do later. For example, a decorative grab bar in the shower is a good idea for everyone, regardless of age. While building in the necessary support behind the shower wall is simple when redoing the tile, it is a big deal once the tile is in place. Keep in mind accessibility features can be beautiful; they don’t need to look sterile.
Successful aging in place requires thinking ahead. And not just about safety features in the house, but also the realities of living alone as we age. Moving into a community, preferably close to family, may be the better option for some.
Pros and Cons of Aging in Place at Home
While there are several benefits to aging in place, there are also potential challenges and drawbacks. Here are some pros and cons of aging in place:
Familiarity and comfort: Aging in place allows individuals to remain in the familiar environment of their own home, surrounded by their personal belongings, memories, and neighbors. This can contribute to a sense of comfort, stability, and overall well-being.
Independence and control: Older adults who age in place often have greater autonomy and control over their daily routines, lifestyle choices, and decision-making processes. They can maintain their preferred level of independence and choose the services they need.
Emotional well-being: Staying in one’s own home and community can provide emotional benefits, as it allows individuals to maintain their social connections, friendships, and support networks. This can help prevent feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness commonly associated with moving away from familiar surroundings.
Cost-effectiveness: Depending on the circumstances, aging in place can be more cost-effective compared to moving into assisted living or nursing home facilities. It eliminates or reduces expenses related to relocation, facility fees, and often allows individuals to utilize existing resources.
Physical limitations: As individuals age, they may experience physical limitations or disabilities that make it challenging to navigate their home environment. Stairs, narrow hallways, and bathroom accessibility can become significant barriers to aging in place safely.
Home modifications and maintenance: Aging in place often requires making modifications to the home to accommodate changing needs, such as installing grab bars, ramps, or widening doorways. These modifications can be costly and may require ongoing maintenance.
Limited access to care: Aging in place may limit access to certain types of care and services that could be readily available in assisted living or nursing homes. For example, specialized medical care, round-the-clock assistance, or social activities may be more challenging to access at home.
Safety concerns: Safety is a crucial consideration when aging in place. Living alone can increase the risk of accidents, falls, or emergencies without immediate assistance. In certain cases, individuals may require monitoring devices or personal emergency response systems to ensure their safety.
Caregiver availability and burden: Aging in place often relies on the support of family members or caregivers. This can place a burden on loved ones who may need to provide care, assistance, and supervision, potentially impacting their own personal and professional lives.
Why Don’t People Want to Think About Aging in Place?
We know that based on the research, most of us want to remain in our homes despite the challenges, but that most of us are not prepared. Without thoughtful and intentional consideration and action, however, the choice may be made for us when the time comes. Why don’t people want to think about aging in place? There are a variety of reasons.
Denial or Avoidance
Aging and its associated challenges can be uncomfortable or distressing to think about. Some individuals may prefer to avoid the topic altogether or deny its significance, as it reminds them of their own mortality or potential decline in health.
Lack of Foresight
People may not consider the possibility of needing additional support or assistance as they age. They may assume that they will remain independent and healthy, underestimating the potential challenges that can arise in later years.
Lack of Awareness
Some people may not be fully aware of the concept of aging in place or the benefits it offers. They may not have considered the advantages of staying in their own homes as they age, or they may not be familiar with the resources and support available to help them do so.
Cultural or Societal Norms
In certain cultures or societies, there may be a prevailing expectation or tradition that elderly individuals should move out of their homes and live with family members or in specialized care facilities. These cultural norms can influence people’s perceptions and choices regarding aging in place.
So Are You Prepared to Age in Place?
So, if you do want to age in place, are you prepared? Some individuals do actively plan for aging in place, but the research shows most do not. As a result, many people are not proactive and find out too late it is not feasible. It’s essential to recognize the potential benefits and challenges involved well in advance.
Keep in mind that the suitability of aging in place varies for each individual based on their health, support system, financial situation, and home environment. Consulting with healthcare professionals, geriatric care managers, and family members can help you make an informed decision about the best care option for you.
When considering aging in place, there are several important questions to consider. Remember that everyone’s situation is unique, so it’s essential to tailor these questions and answers to your specific needs and circumstances when considering aging in place.
How do I know I need to start thinking about aging in place?
If you want to have the option to stay in your home in your later years, the earlier you start to think about it, the better.
What is the average cost of aging in place?
The monthly median cost for in-home care is about $5,000, according to Genworth’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey,
What modifications are needed to make your home safer and more accessible as you age?
Modifications needed to age at home may include installing grab bars in bathrooms, improving lighting, removing tripping hazards, widening doorways, and considering stair lifts or ramps. Ideally, you have a bedroom on the first floor so that you don’t need to worry about climbing stairs. If your bedroom is on the second floor, one possible option is you can get stairlifts installed.
Are there community resources available to support aging in place?
Look into local community organizations, senior centers, and government programs that offer services such as home healthcare, meal delivery, transportation assistance, and social activities. Healthcare providers and social workers may have good suggestions for you. Check into the Area Agency on Aging and local and state offices on aging or social services. If you belong to a religious group, talk with the clergy, or check with its local office about any senior services they offer.
Is your home located in a convenient area for aging in place?
Consider proximity to essential services like healthcare facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies, and public transportation. Assess whether your neighborhood is walkable and is in a location where you feel safe.
Do you have a support system in place?
This is an important question. Many people depend on family to take care of them, but that is not always realistic. Evaluate whether you have family, friends, or neighbors who are able and willing to provide assistance when needed. It may also be beneficial to establish connections with local support groups or hire professional caregivers if necessary.
How will you manage your healthcare needs?
Are you familiar with the local healthcare providers? Are they easily accessible? What about transportation if you no longer drive at some point? It’s a good idea to explore options for telehealth services and home healthcare providers to ensure you can receive medical care and assistance at home when needed.
Can you afford to age in place?
Carefully assess your financial situation to determine if you have the resources to cover home modifications, potential healthcare expenses, and any additional assistance you may need. Long-term care insurance is helpful but is something you need to think about well in advance.
What is your plan for emergencies?
Create an emergency plan that includes contact information for emergency services, a list of medications, and a network of people to be notified in case of an emergency. Consider installing emergency alert systems or wearable devices for immediate assistance.
How will you combat social isolation?
Think about ways to stay socially connected, such as joining local clubs, participating in community activities, attending senior centers, or utilizing technology for virtual communication with friends and family. Local colleges are also a great resource as many offer wonderful options for classes for seniors at reduced prices. You might also consider the different volunteer opportunities in your area which is a great way to make new friends while giving back to the community.
Have you considered long-term care options if aging in place becomes challenging?
It’s important to have a plan in place if you reach a point where aging in place is no longer feasible. Explore alternative housing options like assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or continuing care retirement communities.
What are some additional resources related to aging in place?
Here are some resources to look into.
The National Council on Aging works with nonprofits, governments, and businesses to provide community programs and services. They provide information about senior programs available to assist with healthy aging and financial security.
AARP is a well-known nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that focuses on helping people age 50Plus improve their quality of life. Its comprehensive website offers great information for older adults on topics such as healthy living, senior discounts, products, and news specific to seniors.
PACE® provides and coordinates all types of care an individual aging at home might require. The services with which they work include medical care, personal care, rehabilitation, social interaction, medications, and transportation. There are over 230 PACE centers in 31 states, but to qualify, seniors must be certified by their state.
The NIA is under the National Institute on Health and actively conducts research on aging. They also conduct studies on the health and well-being of older adults. They provide important information and news about the aging process and medical issues related to growing older. In addition, this organization runs a program called Go4Life to help adults aged 50Plus incorporate exercise and physical activity into their daily routines.
Meals on Wheels is a meal program with programs in just about every community. Their goal is to provide seniors with nourishing and healthy meals in their own homes.
Health Finder is a service under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This organization hosts a website with links to helpful health-related websites, support, and self-help groups. They also provide information on government agencies and nonprofit organizations that assist older adults.
The Guide to Long-Term Service and Supports provides helpful guidance, resources, and information about long-term care for senior veterans.