Can Aging in Place Be a Senior's Best Option?

Aging in place is growing in popularity as a long-term care option due to the increase in cost of living and healthcare. While long-term care facilities, like assisted living homes and nursing homes, provide much-needed support to seniors who can no longer live independently at home, they create significant financial hardship. As a result, less than 15% of older adults have invested in long-term care insurance to help pay for the cost of their care. So, can aging in place be the most beneficial option in all aspects?

What is aging in place?

Aging in place describes people over 65 choosing to remain in their homes and grow older there instead of moving to a senior living community or an assisted living facility.

The term has evolved over the last 30 years. Policymakers and researchers work toward creating communities to support people over 65 to be able to remain in their homes despite the development of chronic illnesses. These daily struggles may require seniors to seek additional help for their daily activities, including home upkeep. Many see aging in place as beneficial due to the sense of attachment, connection, security, and familiarity to both homes and communities.

According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 88% of older adults ages 50–80 feel it is important to remain in their homes as long as possible. However, only 15% have considered what home modifications would be necessary to age in place, and 47% have not thought about this at all. But why is aging in place the natural primary choice for many seniors, and how can we keep them safe at home?

Benefits of living at home for seniors

While there are multiple benefits to aging in place, seniors have to weigh them and decide what care solution best fits their needs in their later years. Many factors can affect this decision. There are specialists who can meet with the senior and their family to address all possible factors and determine if remaining home is a viable option. Some of the main ones include:

  • Convenience. It can be daunting to go through the large quantities of material possessions that have accumulated over time. Many cannot physically perform this task and do not have the help to do so.
  • Familiarity. Seniors who stay in their homes remain in a familiar background, which can be especially important with mild cognitive impairment or various forms of dementia.
  • Emotional support. Seniors who remain in their homes usually have a strong support system that includes family, friends, and other members of their local community.
  • Financial. Staying home is financially sensible, as most seniors have fully paid their mortgages by retirement, eliminating these financial burdens. They may even be able to use home equity to pay for home care through various financial planning.
  • Independence. There is a psychological benefit to remaining at home. Staying in the home assists in maintaining a sense of independence and purpose if one can remain in their home safely. Such independence keeps the senior actively engaged in daily activities and provides mental and physical stimulation, as well as personal satisfaction.

What are the disadvantages of aging in place?

Aging in place is not realistic for everyone. A variety of social or medical situations may arise that make living at home unsafe and necessitate a move to a long-term care facility. In addition, a 2020 report by the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that only 10% of homes are 'aging ready,' with bedrooms and bathrooms on the first level, step-free entryways, and at least one bathroom accessibility feature. Aging-in-place modifications can also be extremely expensive, with costs ranging between $10,000 and $100,000. With many seniors living on extremely fixed incomes, preparing their homes to live in safely may not be an option for many.

  • Safety concerns. With age, the home environment may become less safe due to mobility issues, falls, or serious health conditions. Seniors may not be able to afford the additional home care needed to help them.
  • Isolation. Remaining at home can lead to loneliness, especially after the death of a spouse or when social interactions become more limited due to physical restrictions.
  • Maintenance. Maintaining a home can be a heavy physical and financial burden. The senior may not have the financial means to pay for housekeeping, lawn mowing, and handyman services.
  • Life-changing events. Unexpected life events, such as hospitalizations due to serious illness or injuries, can disrupt an older person's ability to live independently at home.

How can we help seniors stay safe in their homes?

As most seniors would like to age in place, it is important to be aware of what resources may be needed to support their safety and independence. These resources are available in most communities, and many can be found by contacting the local area agency on aging. Local area agencies on aging, created by each state's Department of Aging, help seniors and their caregivers find information on home care, financial assistance programs, transportation, and home maintenance programs. Some of these resources include:

  • Non-medical home care providers to assist with laundry, meals, light cleaning, and companionship.
  • Skilled home health services, such as PT or OT, to perform home safety evaluations to strengthen muscles and decrease fall risk.
  • Local handymen/women perform home modifications to accommodate any handicap or disability the person may have. Examples include installing:
    • Wheelchair ramps
    • Stairlifts
    • Grab bars
  • Local primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, and podiatrists are available for home visits to address the client's medical concerns, eliminating the need for finding transportation for seniors who no longer drive.
  • Meal delivery services that can provide pre-made meals, which are convenient and easy to prepare.
  • Medical social workers visit seniors to determine what community resources they may qualify for to assist them. Visiting the person in their home also gives the social worker a unique perspective on their psychosocial situation to better determine what would best help the client.
  • Other helpful resources can be found on the National Institute on Aging's official website.

For older adults who can care for themselves and their homes, aging in place can be a wonderful option to live out their retirement years. However, many factors must be first considered, such as finances, social support, home safety, and medical conditions. This decision should be made in a mutual agreement between the senior, the family or close relatives/friends, and the doctors.

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