by Pamela Leland, PhD, Executive Director
The increasing desire and trend to “age in place” is well-recognized by those of us who support older adults, or, in other words, to stay in their current home versus move to another home as they grow older and their needs change. The irony is that we will all “age in place” regardless of where we live!
Given growing evidence that “aging in place” can lead to social and physical isolation, especially at end of life, this is a critical discussion that should involve older adults, their extended family and friends. An earlier version of this column appeared in September 2015.
Where you choose to live is one of the most important decisions that each of us faces. As you grow older, this decision is no less important. In fact, it may be even more critical. For elders, there are so many factors to consider – to live alone or with others, distance from family and friends, access to activities and community involvement. How do you decide where to live?
As I talk with older adults – and those moving toward elder status – the message I hear most often is that “I want to stay in my own home.” This preference to “age in place” is a clear trend in the senior service industry. And the market is responding. Services to support elders who want to age in their own home abound … and new ones seem to be opening almost daily.
Here in Chester County there are literally dozens and dozens of agencies to provide any range of services to assist seniors in living independently. These include everything from telephone support to companionship to house-keeping to home health care to geriatric case management and more. There are also new technologies that allow family members to monitor the well-being of the elder from a distance via computer. This monitoring might include actual physical location as well as individual biometrics.
And yet, the ability to continue to live independently, whether as an individual or part of a couple, is not always possible. An individual may not be able to take care of himself or herself. There may not be family or friends available to provide caregiving support. Aging in place can also be expensive – and becomes more expensive as needs increase.
But more importantly, some may not want to live alone. Some individuals or couples prefer to live in community with others. I recall an elder who shared his story with me: When he lived alone, he felt lonely and isolated. When he moved into a senior living community, he became more active and felt more connected to others. He said that moving into a senior living community “literally saved [his] life.”
Living in community with others has real benefits. These often include:
- Deeper social connections to others; less isolation.
- Social and recreational activities.
- Exercise and wellness programs.
- Housekeeping services including personal laundry services.
- Transportation services.
- Emergency call systems for each resident’s apartment.
- Medication management.
- Access to health and medical services.
- Assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, and walking.
- Staff available to respond to both scheduled and unscheduled needs.
- 24-hour security.
So how do you know when it might be time to move into a community of your peers? Here are some factors to consider:
- Your ability to take care of your current living environment. Can you keep the house clean? Can you maintain your outdoor living spaces? If you are not able to do this work yourself, do you have the financial resources to have someone else handle these household chores for you?
- Your ability to see and interact with friends and family on a regular basis. Do you have reliable transportation or access to public transportation? If not, do you have friends and family who visit you on a regular basis? How isolated are you from those you care about?
- Your ability to shop for food and cook nutritious meals. Healthy eating and good nutrition are so critical to overall health and well-being. Healthy foods ward off illness, shore up your immune system and keep your brain functioning! Are you able to eat in a healthy way throughout the day?
- Your ability to get regular physical activity and mental stimulation. How often do you get outside for fresh air and exercise? Do you participate in community activities and/or volunteer? Do you feel engaged in your community?
- Your own safety. Do you worry about falling? Are you able to manage any on-going health issues and handle daily drug prescriptions? Do you have medical issues that are likely to lead to medical emergencies? Does your family worry about you, given that you live on your own?
- Available financial resources. Your options in where to live will be impacted by the financial resources that you have available. This could include your own resources (whether income or assets) or financial assistance that is provided by family members. How do your financial resources impact the options available to you?
Choosing where and how you live is one of the most important decisions you will make as an older adult. It is an emotional decision that, depending on your history, may involve moving from a home where you have lived for decades. It may mean giving up space and personal belongings that are important to you. The emotion of the decision may feel like it is too much to handle. It could lead you to put off the decision for too long, which, unfortunately, might then take the decision out of your hands.
Having a choice – making a choice – being independent – are values that many of us hold dear. When considering where and how you want to age, some may prefer to live independently and have both the caregiving support and financial resources to make this possible. Others might prefer to live in community with others. What may be most important is recognizing that it is a decision that needs to be made in advance and fully informed. Plan wisely! Plan well!
For further information on this topic, start with these national associations:
Assisted Living Federation of America – www.alfa.org
Leading Age – www.leadingage.org
Published in the Daily Local News, Monday, March 5, 2018.