Nobody’s first choice is to live in a nursing home. Most people prefer not to move in with adult children or other loved ones either. Even if an older adult is open to the idea of a CCRC (continuing care retirement community) or assisted living, they are very expensive options. Aging in place is considered the most dignified option by many older adults and it is usually the most cost-effective. Though many older adults will eventually reside in senior living residences, most would prefer to live out their last decades and years at home. Here are 5 tips to help you do just that:
1. Choose your home for aging in place carefully. Living near reputable healthcare institutions and providers you trust is crucial. Having a social support system nearby is also vital. Finally, having a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor is a huge help. Many older adults opt to move into a rancher or a condo with an elevator so navigating stairs will never be an issue. While this is a great strategy, some older persons want to remain in their “forever home” indefinitely. Remaining in the multi-story home in which you raised your family is a viable option if there is bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. If an older person becomes less ambulatory, these features make the difference between being able to age in place or not. Ideally, the older person living in a multi-story home will also have the laundry machine on the first floor as well.
2. Understand normal aging and prepare for it. In order to age in place successfully it helps to understand the normal aging process. All of our senses and organs become a bit less efficient. Even when no disease or abnormal conditions are present, all of us experience these changes. For example, all older adults are more at risk for falls because of diminished reaction time which happens to everyone. Older adults desiring to age in place should be mindful of anything that would exacerbate fall risk in the private home: throw rugs, dim lighting, clutter, etc.
3. Join or start a Village. Villages are grass-roots community based organizations that help support members age in place. To find out if there is one in your community or how to start one, check out www.vtvnetwork.org.
4. Embrace technology. Life Alert systems are quite effective in detecting falls, especially the ones that are waterproof and can be worn in the bath or shower. Wearable technologies like Jawbone Up, Fitbit and Lively Safety Watch can allow family members to track some of the older person’s health habits. For example, the family member and older person aging in place can both wear the Jawbone Up or Fitbit, link their accounts and see data like how many steps the other person has taken or the quality of the other person’s sleep. Not only does this increase information that family has about an older loved one’s lifestyle but it may encourage the older person to be less sedentary and embrace better sleep habits. The Lively Safety Watch includes sensors that can be attached to the refrigerator and other objects in the home (e.g. a bathroom door) to determine how often the older person has been eating or when she uses the restroom.
5. Plan to die at home too. Most Americans don’t die at home: the vast majority die in hospitals and other senior living residences. If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, ask your doctor when hospice is appropriate. Most hospice services are provided in the private home and can limit or eliminate any trips to the hospital at end of life, increasing the chance you will pass away at home.
Gerontologist Jennifer L. Fitzpatrick, MSW, CSP helps organizations boost productivity and profits through generational awareness. She is also an adjunct gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. Her first book Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One will be published on Sept. 27, 2016. You can find her at www.jenniferfitzpatrick.com on twitter @fitzpatrickjen.