“Aging in place” is a common phrase people use when thinking about getting old. But like any phrase, I often hear families and seniors say they want to age in place without thinking through what it may mean to successfully do that.
As explained by Wikipedia, “the U.S. Centers for Disease Controland Prevention defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and communitysafely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." That’s a wonderful definition and concept. After all, dignity and happiness depend onour ability to make choices, create community and live safely and according to our abilities and resources.
Here’s some expert insight into some key words of the concept.
Home: For many seniors and their adult children, home may mean the physical house in which they now live. It could be the house that they’ve lived in for many years – the one in which their children grew up, where they added an extra bath, with the remodeled kitchen and yearsof holiday decorations in the hall closet. Or it could mean the house where aparent now lives after the yard, stairs or large rooms became too much to navigate or keep up with. But a house is different than a home – and if a house no longer functions as a safe home, changes are needed.
Community is a key success factor for happiness and successful aging. By communing with other people, humans share experiences, joy, common interests. Covid has proven that loneliness, or lack of community, is toxic as we age. Again, the CDC observes that “loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting asignificant number of people in the United States and putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.” Moreover, older adults often loose social connections and experience greater loneliness from “living alone,the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.”
When thinking about home, consider if the structure and activities you or your parent requires to live there provide safety, independence and comfort. While most people think of safety in terms of stairs and trip hazards, healthy aging in place also includes consistent medication refills and making sure a parent takes the right dose at the right time. Things that a parent once did easily can become a concern without them – or you – knowing about it. Common examples include hot water (older skin scalds more easily, which is why water temperatures are monitored in assisted living), knife use, hot ovens. Even microwaves can cause problems when handling meals that steam when opened. The reality is that almost no one will admit that things that were once easy have become hard. It’s embarrassing and parents don’t want to be a burden. And how can anyone be comfortable if they’re not eating well? As we age, maintaining independence and comfort requires extra help.
Avoiding the nursing home
While living in the home that’s familiar maybe the ideal, it’s common to encounter problems to aging in place in the familyhouse. I believe there’s a more critical definition of “home” that seniors and their families should consider, and thatmakes the actual house itself less important. And that is avoiding a NURSING home.
Nursing homes, also called skilled nursing facilities, serve two primary roles:
1. As short-term rehabilitation (30 days) after a hospitalization, fall or surgery in order to make a person able to return to their regular setting.
2. As a long-term living solution forpersons whose medical needs are too great to allow them to live in any other setting. But by avoiding getting care, seniors are more likely to wind up in this category.
During the pandemic, many older people and their families have avoided considering group senior living for fear of Covid. The stories about nursing homes and assisted living communities have been awful. And there’s no doubt that the risk of infection is real.
At the same time, news headlines often lump nursing home infection rates with infection rates in assisted living, making them both seem equally dangerous. But that’s not the case.
Nursing homes are a medical environment. Just as in a hospital, privacy and social distancing are less important than providing medical support. Infections run through nursing homes more easily, particularly since many are underfunded and residents are fragile. And many financially strapped, underfunded nursing homes have been less able to implement safe procedures.
What’s more, nursing homes are the most expensive cost setting. Most people don’t know that Medicare doesn’t payfor long-term skilled nursing. Families and seniors can run through savings quickly or be forced to apply for Medicaid. If you’ve ever visited a hospital or a nursing home, you know that no one would choose to live there if they can avoid it. Senior living communities, on the other hand, are designed with comfort and purpose. Costs are much less and services are tailored for each resident. Residentshave choice,
The fact is that getting the right level of support by modifying a home, bringing in home care or moving to a senior livingcommunity helps seniors age in place and avoid a nursing home.
What you can do now?
If you’ve been putting off talking with your parent due to Covid or to avoid a tough conversation, now is the time. Successful aging in place is NOT rigid commitment to a house or habits that just don’t work anymore. It requires choice. Thoughtfully helping your parent evaluate what they need now – whether in the family home or in a senior community – gives you and your parent peace of mind. Over and over, my clients tell me the process is challenging but the benefits – maintaining independence, preserving quality of life, avoiding a nursing home and maintaining family ties - are worth it. Let’s honestly agree that getting old isn’t for sissies, and that life’s real champions know it’s okay to ask for backup.
You don’t have to be a senior living expert –that’s what we do. Give us a call if you’d like to talk 404-921-0064.