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How Older Adults and Seniors Can Gradually Age in Place

Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.

The term “aging in place” has come to mean older adults choosing to stay home rather than enter a retirement facility. According to a University of Michigan survey, 88 percent of people over the age of 50 say they want to continue to live in their own homes. Participants also said they had not thought about what it would take to age in place.

Barriers to Living Alone

Older people may have physical or cognitive challenges that make it impossible for them to live alone. There are several other factors that are barriers to independent living such as:

  • The home is too small to accommodate wheelchair traffic or medical equipment.
  • Seniors cannot drive and do not have access to transportation services.
  • Seniors are not comfortable with strangers taking them shopping, doing housekeeping, or providing personal care.
  • The family does not have the financial means for support workers.
  • Personal support workers (PSWs) do not live in the area.

Strategies for Older Adults to Successfully Age in Place

Seek Help and Explore Local Services

Family, friends, and others can assist by making helpful suggestions or finding resolutions to problems. Adult offspring may choose to live nearby. There are organizations for disabled people or seniors that have consultants who can provide expert advice on accommodations.

Doctors can provide information about potential challenges that may come up in the future and the types of support available in the area. MedicAlert bracelets or necklaces, fall alert services, or other technology can protect seniors from getting the wrong medication or summon assistance after a fall. Personal emergency response systems (PERS) can provide a lifeline during medical emergencies.

In the U.S., the local Agency on Aging offices can help connect caregivers and seniors to services in their areas. Other countries may provide similar services.

Numerous assistive devices can make life easier for older adults, such as canes, grab bars, and dressing aids. Technology such as Amazon Alexa or Google Nest can be programmed to answer questions and control functions such as setting appointments, reminders to take medication, alarms, temperature control, etc.

Some tech integrates with smartphones. Fitness trackers can monitor areas such as sleep duration, heart rate, exercise stats, and steps.

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Start Planning As Soon as Possible

Only a third of older adults feel that their houses have the features that would help them stay. As people age, they should start to plan the accommodations they will need in the near future such as grab bars, bathroom renovations, and ramps. Most people do not want to think about how aging will affect them, but they need to acknowledge that they may need these things later in life.

They should do a walk-thru of the house and think about what life would be like for an older version of themselves. They may ask themselves and their support system:

  • Will I be able to get into a bath or shower easily?
  • How will I be able to manage self-care such as washing their hair or dressing?
  • Are there potential tripping hazards such as extension cords or clutter?
  • Will I need help with chores such as shopping or yard work?
  • Will I be able to manage the stairs?
  • Should the stairs have extra railings?
  • How can I answer the door if I have trouble walking?
  • How will I be able to do my laundry?
  • How will I manage my shopping?
  • Do I need better lighting and nightlights?
  • Are the area rugs or floors slipping hazards?
  • Will I be able to cook in the kitchen?
  • Are the kitchen shelves accessible? Do I have to bend or reach for items?
  • Does the furniture have sharp edges?
  • Would a ramp be helpful at entryways?

Some renovations may involve time and inconvenience such as converting a bathtub into a shower, installing better lighting, or adding grab bars. Other solutions may be simple and inexpensive, such as adding a no-slip mat under an area rug. Making small changes over time helps older people to adapt to new accommodations.

Set Aside Money for Renovations

Money for these projects should be incorporated into the seniors’ budgets. Building contractors can provide input on modification choices and offer quotes. There may be government programs that help fund caregiving or renovations. Spreading needed renovations over time helps to make costs more manageable.

The U.S. Access Board offers several guides to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards that can provide ideas for work that may need to be done. These guides include specific measurements such as door widths for wheelchairs.

Prepare for Medical Emergencies

Seniors should have a plan in place in case of medical emergencies. Information about emergency contacts, the family doctor, medical conditions, medical history, and medications should be available to loved ones and caregivers. Some caregivers may want to consider legal options such as a power of attorney. If the older adults use hospital services, they can sign a consent form that enables their loved ones to access their medical info.

A Note for Loved Ones and Caregivers

It is scary to think of an elderly loved one living on their own, especially if they have certain medical conditions. Caregivers need to walk a fine line between supporting them and being overprotective. Older adults want to be independent and treated with dignity and respect.

There are various areas where older people may need help such as managing finances. Their bills may need to be monitored for mistakes or fraudulent transactions. They need to be educated about phone and internet scams and how to keep safe by not giving out personal information or not opening their door to strangers.

Living independently can be a dream come true for older adults. Aging in place is not for everyone, but can work well for some older adults with additional support.

References:

Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Standards, Access Board
Want to “age in place” someday? Take action now, Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan, Emily Smith
A Guide to Aging in Place, caring.com
Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home, National Institute on Aging
Secrets To Successfully Aging In Place, Bob Carlson, Forbes

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Carola Finch

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