What is Aging In Place?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level."
Aging isn’t for sissies
As I approach my 78th birthday, issues that seemed far-off and irrelevant to my younger self are becoming very real and challenging today. A youthful world of wide-open possibilities gradually morphs over time into a world of practical and consequential choices – or lack of choices.
Aging narrows the focus. Health and financial challenges, a shrinking circle of family and friends, a growing disconnect with advancing technology, confusing changes in social norms and a generalized anxiety about what the future holds conspire to narrow our focus to one overreaching question…
What’s to become of me?
Our ability to adjust to changing circumstances, our flexibility and adaptive skills – they atrophy as we age. “I’m just not the same person I used to be” is an all-too-common lament as we age.
So what can we do about these growing challenges as we age? We need a strategy. We need a plan of action to confront these challenges rather than submit to the inevitability of their effects on our life. We must take charge of this phase of our life as decisively as we fought to control when we were youthful, bring-it-on pups.
“I want to continue to live in my home” is almost universally an aging person’s preference. Why? Because it’s familiar, comforting, feels safer, preserves my independence, enhances strong memories, is closer to friends and support.
We value the continuity of life where we feel most “at home.”
This is why I am so increasingly focused on “Aging In Place” as a valuable strategy in our fight to mitigate aging’s impact on our life. Why is aging in place so important to think about as a social strategy in the 21st century? Let’s look at the most common concerns, and also the reasons I think it merits even more discussion and analysis than it currently gets:
The concerns about aging in place
1. How can I get around? Issues with mobility are common as we age. Stairs, step-downs, obstacles, injuries, arthritis and other maladies can make mobility a challenge for seniors. So many homes are not designed to be aging-friendly.
And what about transportation? How much longer will I be able to drive? How will I get to my doctors, shopping, errands?
2. How can I stay safe? What if I get sick and there’s no one around? Is my neighborhood safe – could I be physically assaulted or robbed? Could I be scammed on phone calls or in emails? Will I be too forgetful?
3. How can I handle daily activities? We take for granted our ability to deal with life’s daily challenges – preparing meals, taking medicines with timely and accurate consistency, bathing, dressing, cleaning, operating appliances, electronics, etc., managing finances, dealing with bad weather… and much more.
4. How can I pay for the help I need? Home healthcare is expensive. Families have their own lives. They work. I hate to burden friends. I hate being dependent.
So why am I so enthusiastic about the value of aging in place – despite all these genuine and relevant concerns? Why do I think aging in place is worth fighting for?
Because in the end I believe there is something profound about the connection with HOME – with memories, comfort, contentment and familiarity. Life can seldom be a Hallmark movie. But I think it’s worth fighting with every skill and resource available to enable aging seniors to live out their life with as much dignity and independence as possible.
Every effort should be expended to avoid the disconnect that moving out of the home brings
It may be more practical, even inevitable, to go in that direction. But my message is that there are resources and creative solutions available worthy of a good fight.
Here are just a few. Be proactive in a search for help and resources before giving in to the alternative.
• Talk to doctors and research about anticipating the progression of illnesses or conditions, and how they may affect future caregiving needs. Be a proactive planner.
• Search out available relevant resources online – from government agencies, companies and other sources. Be a proactive Googler. Here are links to several resources outlined in our Elder Care Resource Directory at the end of Marianne’s book My Elder Care Diary:
These are just a sampling of all the resources available IF you have the motivation and fortitude to proactively search for help. More is out there than you currently know – including local agencies and non-profits ready to help. Look for it.
• For personal care, perhaps a relative or friend could help. Or, you could hire a trained aide for a short period of time each day.
• For household chores, consider grocery home delivery and other home delivery services – it’s a growing trend. Affordable home caregiving services are exploding nationwide as the boomer generation ages and greater demand for these services increases. Help from family, neighbors and friends can often be arranged with efficient scheduling.
• For meals, there are many free or low-cost meal delivery programs available. Meals are often served in nearby senior centers or churches. Arranging to eat out with friends or family can combine socializing with healthy eating.
• For managing money and day-to-day financial issues, getting help is very achievable. Automatic bill-pay and banking options online are a growing trend. A trusted family member may help. Many volunteer and senior assistance programs are available in most communities. The National Institute On Aging (NIH) has valuable information on this topic.
• For health care, programmed cell phone reminders, pill boxes and other organizational reminders can organize and provide structure to day-to-day medication planning. Medicare and other insurance may provide for a home health aide to provide medical assistance or household chores. Family and friends can provide stand-by assistance to monitor for health issues.
• For transportation issues, free or low-cost senior transportation is available in more and more communities. From organized outings to entertainment venues or dining to doctors’ visits to shopping excursions, transportation is often available with good planning. Add family, friends and neighbors who can chip in with occasional car service and most seniors can avoid isolation and deal with day-to-day transportation needs.
These are just a few of the breadth of resources available with proactive research and planning. There is no miracle solution to making aging in place achievable. It’s hard work and a creative challenge. But enabling me to efficiently handle and cherish more time in my home is priceless.
Aging may not be for sissies, but dealing with it with compassion, love and creativity is a human right that I’m willing to fight for. Are you? Be a proactive planner for this eventuality and find fulfillment in being more ready for the challenge.
Check out Marianne’s remarkable account of our efforts to keep our parents out of nursing homes during their later years. My ElderCare Diary is available as an online book or in paperback.