Dorothy said it best, didn’t she? ‘There’s no place like home.’ Three out of four adults believe this sentiment to be true and want to age in place – 76% of Americans aged 50+ prefer to remain exactly where they are and yet just 59% anticipate that’s possible. People want to age in place but many don’t know how to make that happen – whether it’s for themselves or for their older loved ones.
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The reality is neither do the communities in which we live. Only one percent of available housing for seniors is equipped with the right modifications needed to safely support their goals of aging in place. Accessibility is a big challenge, one report notes, ‘along with other hurdles for the aging population including affordability, need for in-home care, and the potential for isolation.’
My grandmother firmly believed there was no place like home; the one she lived in her entire married life. When we look back, moving out of her home was one of my grandmother’s toughest decisions. Fifty-plus years in the same home she built with my grandfather, where she raised four girls. It became our second home growing up – our favorite place to ‘flop’ on the comfy leather couches and enjoy her famous parfaits and homemade lemonade. It really was that magical.
It was filled with memories – the back bedroom that belonged to my aunt and later became my grandmother’s place to reflect after my aunt passed away. She had this space to remember her when she needed to. It’s all the small things that amount to big reasons why people want to age in place.
What are the solutions then to make that happen? It depends on the circumstances. Some seniors need help bathing or keeping their homes clean, others need support with mobility or dressing. And quite often, they don’t tell you they need help until it’s too late.
My grandmother didn’t want to leave her home so she didn’t tell us she was having a hard time seeing until we began to notice the small signs – she fell getting into her shower on a ceramic step that led into her shower (luckily my aunt was visiting that day). Her fridge became barer than usual; with her diminishing eyesight, she was afraid to drive and didn’t go to the grocery store as often – yet was frustrated because a fully stocked fridge kept her feeling in control, which explains her sudden bursts of anger.
But she also knew her limitations. In her mid-80s her macular degeneration was worsening and she faced the reality the she needed to move or go to a nursing home, and she knew she didn’t want the latter. What she wanted was her own space, her own garden, everyone visiting her whenever they wanted, and the flexibility to be independent and completely in control of her home. The simple solution: build an apartment attached to my mother’s house.
For her it worked and gave us the ability to build a new shower that she could walk right into with grab bars, non-stick rugs, and a life alert system that would sound a bell in my mother’s house if she was having an emergency and notify the police. It wasn’t ‘home’ but she was happy aging in place there nonetheless.
And there are other simple solutions used by Homespire Life Care Managers to help people age in place safely that we found helpful. They include:
- Reviewing home safety via an easy walk-through by a trusted professional who can point out areas that could pose a safety hazard like throw rugs, piles of newspapers or collections, extension or lamp chords, poor lighting, etc.
- Moving bedrooms to the first floor or creating space for the washer/dryer to be upstairs instead of in the basement.
- Adding motion sensor lights in the hallway or bathroom for when older loved ones get up at night.
- Hiring a house cleaner or someone to grocery shop.
- Coordinating transportation services like Uber or Lyft to take seniors to hair appointments, church groups or volunteer opportunities to avoid isolation.
These are just a sampling of what can be done to support seniors’ goals for aging in place. It starts with identifying if there is a need for support, especially with activities of daily living (ADLs), but also knowing your loved one’s goals – their health and life goals – and then tapping into the resources to help them achieve those goals.
Need helping knowing if your loved one needs support with ADLs and the solutions to help them age in place? Download a copy of ‘Getting Help for ADLs Checklist’ as a start, and reach out to Homespire for guidance and any concerns you might have.