When it comes to “aging in place,” seniors will often do whatever it takes to remain in their own home as long as possible (and avoid moving to assisted living, nursing homes, etc). Aging in place reflects on a senior’s independence, self-reliance, and overall health and wellbeing. With 80 million Americans being on the 65+ horizon in the next 20 years, understanding the common challenges to aging in place can equip them and their family and caregivers with the tools to successfully (and safely) remain in their homes.
Mobility limitations which so often accompany getting older often stem from an existing chronic condition or simply age-related muscle atrophy, loss of balance and coordination, and lower endurance and energy levels. As the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies points out, most homes in the U.S. are not designed with accessibility for older adults with mobility problems in mind.
Features like stairs up to the home as well as those within the home can pose challenges to people with mobility problems, as can narrow doorways and hallways, and cramped bathroom layouts. Preparing the home before a fall occurs can help prevent debilitating injury and save a lot of money, time, and stress down the road. Seniors and their families should think about installing ramps up to outside doors, upgrading bathrooms with walk-in showers and grab bars, and moving primary living and sleeping areas to first floor levels. Simple ease-of-use tools like dressing aids, reacher grabbers, and bath steps with handles can make a huge difference as well.
Reducing Social Isolation
While aging in place does afford you to remain in the home environment you love and are comfortable in, it does have the downside of keeping you outside of common senior social environments like retirement communities and even assisted living. Rates of anxiety and depression in seniors often get overlooked, however, they are very real and prominent mental health issues that can negatively impact a senior’s health and longevity.
Seniors and their caregivers should prioritize regular social get-togethers or outings and take advantage of technology for keeping in touch as well. Social media and live video chat software (i.e. with Skype or Facetime) can help seniors living alone in their homes stay connected with friends and family near and far. Community transportation services along with senior social or exercise programs can also help seniors stay active and get out of their house regularly.
Driving and Transportation
Much of self-reliant living depends on your ability to transport yourself – to doctor’s appointments, the pharmacy, to get groceries, meet up with a friend, etc. As a senior ages, financial woes, chronic illness, an accident, or vision impairment may prevent them from being able to keep their license and legally drive. This can be a huge blow to confidence levels and a senior’s sense of independence and can make aging in place much more difficult.
To practice safe driving as you get older, experts recommend taking an updated senior driver improvement course, as well as practicing safe steps like:
- Getting vision checked regularly.
- Avoiding driving at night
- Driving in low-traffic periods of the day
- Sticking with familiar routes and roads
- Always turning on the headlights, even during the day
- Wearing your seatbelt all the time
- Minimizing distractions (like conversation or music) when driving
If chronic conditions like arthritis make driving physically difficult, seniors should play it safe and take precautionary methods in requesting rides from friends or family, researching community programs that provide transportation to seniors, or using ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft.
Additional concerns like managing chronic illness when living alone are becoming more and more ubiquitous in the senior population as rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease climb as well. Seniors won’t just need help with day-to-day medical needs, but potentially with fixing meals, paying bills, and keeping up with housework.
Retaining skilled caregivers or long-term care while aging in place continues to require more and more money as costs rise, placing a financial strain on senior retirement funds. Planning for these types of expenses and examining health coverage options can make a huge difference in being able to age in place or having to move.