In recent months I’ve been contacted by a few assisted living communities asking me for an endorsement. As those of you who follow my blog probably already know, I intend to age in place. Aging in place means you age in your home with some support services, not an assisted living or nursing home community. This is a growing movement, especially among baby boomers like myself. I like having control over what I’m doing in life. The idea of giving up control to an institutionalized home environment run by a staff with rules and policies to be followed is not my idea of independent living. While it’s not always possible to stay independent to a degree and these facilities serve a real need, they are also expensive. One family seeking assisted living for a relative recently told me about a community, which cost $10,000 per month! How many people have $120,000 a year to spend on housing and care for the rest of their lives? I think very few can afford that kind of money. Since assisted living and nursing home communities have experienced a decline in population over the last ten years and baby boomers, true to form, want to stay as independent for as long as possible, I think it’s a good bet the decline may continue. The question then becomes, “What must we do to successfully age in place?”.
The first requisite is good health. If you take care of your body when you’re young, your body will take care of you as you age. Good health is the number one reason I recently lost some pounds – 18 at last count. I’ve reached my goal, satisfied my doctor and feel more optimistic about my ability to age in place. Weight isn’t the only issue, however. Good health covers a lot of territory. Being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally means more than popping a multivitamin and eating a healthy diet. Both your body and mind must stay agile. Remember neuroplasticity? If we are to age in place, we must have the mental capacity to know when to do what as well as the physical acuity to perform routine activities and avoid falls. Keep moving! Both body and mind. And, monitor your health along with your physician. Being proactive about your health is the best preventive measure you can take. On the emotional end of the good health spectrum, we must be engaged with people. People who age successfully no matter where they live, have close ties to other human beings. They feel a sense of community. They cultivate relationships with family and friends. This may become more of a challenge as we age. It’s a fact of life that eventually we all die. As we lose friends or family, it becomes important to watch ourselves for depression. It becomes even more important to continue the deep relationships that remain as well as take part in community activities to find new friends, young and old.
Most aging in place articles I’ve read are centered upon the home environment. Staying in the home we’ve lived in is a source of security, a feeling of independence and control as we age. That’s the number one reason to stay in your home. However, the home must accommodate our physical needs in such a way as to offer a safe haven. This is the second requisite for aging in place. If you are living in a large home with stairs, all bedrooms on the second floor, a huge yard to keep up, a basement level or stairs just to enter the house, you need to assess whether aging in this particular place is possible for you. When Martin and I built our house eleven years ago, it was built with the idea of aging in place. Never having owned a really large home anyway, this one is just a tad bit larger than the average American home of 2,000 square feet. The floor plan is an open one story so if wheel chair or walker become necessary, we can negotiate the rooms without any problem. With the exception of the two secondary bedrooms, the flooring is either hardwood or tile. The one area rug can easily be removed to prevent tripping as we age. There is no tub in the master bath – only a large walk-in shower with a seat. We tried to think about what it would be like to age in this house. As you can see, with some planning, even an existing house can be retrofitted to accommodate your needs for aging in place. I know realistically we will need to hire someone to do the yard work around the house. Just as we will eventually need someone to clean inside, do laundry and maybe cook some meals.
That brings me to the third requisite for aging in place. Services. We’ll need in home help. In the last 50 years, we’ve done a better job at providing community and government resources to support the care of our aging population. With the sheer numbers increasing due to the aging of baby boomers, those support systems will likely be strained. I believe technology and good old-fashioned ingenuity will help fill that gap. I also believe as health care improves so will our chances of remaining independent longer. We are currently seeing the advent of cars, which drive themselves. What a boon to an aging population not willing to relinquish their independence, car keys or driver’s license. We already have improved home security services with speakers in the ceiling and remote emergency buttons. APPS listing and connecting us to resources in the community already exist and are sure to increase and improve. Companies now in the business of offering home care will find new, improved ways of meeting the need. And, new companies will be created. This is an opportunity in many ways.
Aging in place has a lot of parts to it and is not a one size fits all. It requires a lot of thought and planning. You, and only you, know how you want to age and what fits with your individual needs. What I’ve shared with you here is just the basics as I see them. If you haven’t thought about it, now is the time to think about it and make any necessary changes to your lifestyle. Taking a proactive approach now and preparing for the future will allow you to age in place on your terms.