Today’s senior living communities offer more services and amenities than ever, with perks that range from the convenient (like on-site healthcare facilities, transportation, and home maintenance) to the luxurious (like on-site 5-star dining options and indoor pools). Yet despite the seeming allure of many senior living facilities, survey after survey reveals that today’s senior still has a strong desire to stay in their own home for as long as possible, referred to as “aging in place.”
If you are one who feels that you want to stay in your own home, it’s important that you do the appropriate planning. Here are a few important questions that you need to consider to ensure health, happiness, and safety in your home.
1. Will your home need to be modified to accommodate potential mobility challenges? Perhaps the top consideration is whether your bedroom is upstairs or downstairs, but other things to think about include the width of doorways (could they accommodate a walker or wheelchair?), height of the stove and cabinets, proper lighting, and floor surfaces. These are things that can pose particular challenges, and even safety concerns, depending on your physical capabilities in the future.
2. How will you maintain your home and yard when daily physical activity becomes more challenging? From routine housekeeping to yardwork and building maintenance, caring for a home is a lot of work even for a younger, able-bodied person, so it is important to determine how you will continue with your home’s upkeep as you age.
3. What will you do to maintain your sense of purpose and stay socially active to minimize loneliness and social isolation, even when your mobility and independence declines? One of the challenges of staying in the home is the risk of becoming isolated because of physical decline and/or transportation issues. Seniors who want to stay in their own home must find ways to continue to get out into their community, socialize, and nurture relationships with friends and loved ones.
4. Who will provide transportation to doctors’ appointments and other necessary errands if you are no longer able to drive safely? While ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have begun testing ways to help seniors in this capacity, these services aren’t available everywhere, and not all seniors may feel comfortable with a driver they don’t know, or using the necessary technology. So, you must look at how you will safely get from place to place if and when you are no longer able to drive yourself.
5. What will you do to make sure someone is alerted if you fall and cannot get up on your own? Technology is on your side for this one. There are numerous home alert systems available today. Some are the push button alert systems that have been around for some time. Newer technologies incorporate Bluetooth sensors, which essentially act as in-home tracking devices that notify the appropriate person if there seems to be a lack of movement for a period of time. You can begin exploring your options with a simple Google search for “senior assistive devices.”
6. If your cognitive functionality begins to decline, who will manage your household and finances, making sure your bills are paid, appointments are met, necessary services are provided, etc.? Who will help you prepare meals, get dressed, and perform other activities of daily living (ADLs) when you are no longer physically able? This is a biggie. Many people expect that their adult children will be willing and able to assist with these types of mundane tasks, but the reality is that caring for an aging loved one can be very taxing–physically, emotionally, and even financially. This is an honest conversation you need to have with family members before their assistance is needed. Alternately, it is good to research in-home care providers and/or care coordinators in your area, again, before you actually need help.
7. If you require facility-based rehab care following an unexpected injury, such as a fall, do you know the available options in your area and the quality of care provided by each? While aging in place may be your preference, life may have other plans for you. An injury, surgery, or illness can necessitate a move to a rehabilitation or care facility, at least temporarily. It’s good to know in advance which ones are the best in your area. Ask friends who have had a first-hand experience in such facilities, or ask your physician for their two-cents. Also find out if they typically have a waiting list.
8. If you require in-home care or assistance, who will manage scheduling and payments, as well as provide regular oversight to verify that adequate care is provided and help prevent elder abuse? While the majority of in-home care providers are excellent, there are a few unfortunate exceptions where seniors are mistreated or neglected. It’s important to have someone who can not only oversee the financial aspects of having care services provided in the home but who can also advocate for you to ensure you are receiving the quality care you are paying for. Also, turnover in the home-care services industry is extremely high. Finding and keeping high-quality care can be a challenge.
The big picture of aging in place
Aging in place has appeal for a lot of reasons: Your home is familiar, steeped in fond memories, comfortable. But there are drawbacks to staying in a home that may not have been built for an elderly person, especially if health issues arise. So, it’s important to consider the big picture before opting to age in place. You may just decide that another senior living option is better for you in the long-run.