Aging in Place: A Guide for Older Adults & Families

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Despite the growing number of assisted living and retirement communities, research shows that older adults today prefer to age at home for as long as possible, if not indefinitely. They’d rather grow older in the comfort of their own homes and communities rather than relocate.

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Another study also shows that the majority of older adults still wish to remain living at home even in light of increased care needs. Being able to stay in your own home as you age can be very beneficial. However, it can also have many drawbacks if you’re not able to receive the assistance and care you may need. 

What Does ‘Aging in Place’ Mean?

Aging in place refers to the ability to grow older in one’s residence of choice, while maintaining some level of independence. The word “place” describes the home and living environment. The word “aging” refers to people in their later years of life.

Seniors who are aging in place make choices about how they live and will continue to live their lives. They may consider plans on how to meet their needs in the future and who will help them. It's important to note that aging in place doesn't mean having to do everything by yourself. 

As you age, having a plan and sharing it with others can help avoid adding stress. One of the biggest aspects of aging in place is determining which types of assistance you may need in the future and how you want to be cared for. It also involves sharing your preferences for major life events with others such as housing transitions, treatment plans, and end-of-life planning preferences

The primary goal of aging in place is to maintain independence and a good quality of life. And, to remain around familiar surroundings. We don’t think about our environment on an everyday basis. But, it helps us in more ways than we realize. Familiar surroundings help us locate our belongings, carry out tasks efficiently, and helps us maintain independence and control.

Think about trying to cook a meal for example in someone else’s house. Without knowing where items are located and how to use appliances, making your meal can become more difficult and frustrating. This is similar to what older adults placed in long-term care experience who'd prefer to stay at home. There are many new adjustments to make and ways of living to get used to.

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What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Aging in Place?

As mentioned above, aging in place can be a very good option for people who have a strong support system in place. However, if you have increasing care needs, sometimes it can do more harm than good. Below are a few of the common advantages and disadvantages of aging in place. 

Benefits

Independence. Remaining in your own home lets you continue living independently where you're most comfortable. You can cook your own meals, stick to your own schedule, and participate in activities that bring you the most joy. Similarly, aging in place can help you preserve your sense of identity and autonomy.

Privacy. Compared to other long-term care facilities, aging in place allows for more privacy. In long-term care facilities, you can have daily check-ins with nurses, and you may be living with roommates. By contrast, if you need care at home, you can schedule and coordinate it yourself. Or, you can have someone make an arrangement for you.

Finances. On the financial end, receiving care at home can be lower than long-term care facilities. This is because, in long-term care, you aren’t just paying for the residence alone. You would also be paying for meals, transportation, employees, and care.

Prevents or delays the need for long-term care. Research shows that aging in place helps delay or prevent unnecessary and traumatic relocation to institutional settings. Moving later in life can be especially disorienting for some, especially if it’s a decision made without their input. This is why planning ahead of time is extra important. It ensures that you will be able to have a say or control over how you are able to live your life despite declines in health and mobility.

Routines. Aging in place also lets you maintain your typical routine. You're able to do things when you want to do them and receive care when you need it by organizing it yourself or others make arrangements for you to receive the care at home. Because you are an active participant in your own living, maintaining a level of normalcy is more attainable.

Drawbacks

A number of factors serve as barriers to aging in place. 

Health decline. As adults age, they can experience increasing declines in health and functionality, which can make them more vulnerable to poor health outcomes. It also takes longer to recover from illness, injury, and other stressors associated with physical aging processes. 

Functional limitation. It is estimated that nearly one-third of older adults living alone in a community can have functional limitations. These limitations put them at risk for relocation to long-term care facilities. In addition, age-related frailty is associated with increased risk for falls, hospitalizations, hospital readmissions, and mortality.

Limited social networks. Limited social networks, weaker social ties, and fewer opportunities for meaningful engagement may also hinder aging in place. Aging in place with the absence of meaningful social interaction and connection may lead to feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. All these can have increasingly negative impacts on health and well-being that threaten quality of life. In fact, declines in social participation and disengagement from social activities may be one of the reasons that lead to nursing home placement.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s. A growing number of older adults experience dementia and have difficulty remembering things. This could be as simple as forgetting to turn off the light, or as serious as leaving a burner on the stove, which could be a fire hazard. If you or a loved one have received a diagnosis of dementia, consider more intensive care options that you can to receive at home if you wish to continue remaining at home.

How You or a Loved One Can Start Aging in Place

Coming up with a comprehensive plan that allows you or a loved one to age in place is key. It’s also something that many people don’t often think too much about or discuss with loved ones. However, it's important to discuss this process if you'd like to age in accordance with your preferences. 

You or a loved one can start aging in place in a number of ways. Think about the home you currently live in. Do you wish to reside there for the remainder of your life? If so, which parts of your home environment enable you to do so? Are there any adaptations you can make to make living there easier? Below are a few suggestions to help you or a loved one age in place—or at least start thinking about it.

Enhance your social environment

Many aspects of the social environment enhance older individuals’ ability to age in place. Having larger social networks, stronger social connections, more frequent social interaction, and increased social support may reduce the chance of long-term care placement.

Other studies have found that older individuals who are more firmly embedded within their communities and social networks are likely to have additional resources that could delay or prevent the need for long-term care. Similarly, maintaining supportive community relationships and trusting neighbors may provide emotional and instrumental support. These things can help aging in place become a reality.  

Get to know local organizations for older adults

Neighborhood groups vary across geographic regions. However, there are many options you may want to consider, like a neighborhood civic association. Perhaps there's a village nearby that you could join or ask about resources. There are many models that support neighbors helping neighbors. There are even online community “neighborhood” groups as well.

You may also want to visit or call your local senior center or any other resource. Senior centers are focal points of information, resources, activities, and support. They also provide on-site meals and offer delivery to your home. There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved socially with interest groups or retirement hobbies.

Seek local support groups

As we enter the middle and later stages of our life, finding a support group that works for you can be helpful for aging in place. It can also be good for your health, well-being, and quality of life. Some common types of support groups at senior centers include caregiver support, dementia support, or death support groups.

Here are a few ways attending support groups can help:

  • Socializing and fostering new friendships
  • Strengthen your ability and confidence to age in place
  • Become aware of community support
  • Prepare for a situation or what's to come
  • Help others going through what you’ve been through

Designing Your Future 

Have you thought about where you or your loved ones want to age? If aging in place is an appealing option, you may want to think about how you can make your home more accessible. This may involve installing grab bars in your bathroom, removing tripping hazards, or even relocating to a one-story living option.

Your aging journey will depend on your personal wants and needs, so make sure to plan ahead. Sharing these ideas and future plans with loved ones will make all the difference.


Sources

  1. Factors associated with older people's independent living from the viewpoint of health and functional capacity: A register‐based study. Nursing Open, 3, 79-89. Ahlqvist, A., Nyfors, H., & Suhonen, R. (2015). 
  2. Mental exercising through simple socializing: Social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 248–259. Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2008). 
  3.  Actions and personal attributes of community-dwelling older adults to maintain independence. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics 25, 35–53. Yuen, H., Gibson, R., Yau, M., & Mitcham, M. (2007).
  4. The impact of social activities, social networks, social support and social relationships on the cognitive functioning of healthy older adults: a systematic review. Systematic reviews, 6, 259. Kelly, M., Duff, H., Kelly, S., Power, J., Brennan, S., Lawlor, B., & Loughrey, D. (2017). 
  5. A model for aging in place in apartment communities. Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 31, 1-13. Ewen, H., Lewis, D., Carswell, A., Emerson, K., Washington, T., & Smith, M. (2017).
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