Secrets To Successfully Aging In Place
Share to linkedin Shutterstock Most folks want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. An AARP survey in 2015 said that’s the goal of almost 90% of those age 65 or older. If you’re in that group, you need a plan. You’ll be able to live in your home longer if you take some steps now.
Most of us prefer the familiar surroundings and memories of our homes to a new, unfamiliar place. But wishing doesn’t make it so.
The truth is very different. You should aspire to more than living in the same home. You should want to stay there safely and independently. You should stay there only if you can maintain a desirable quality of life at a reasonable cost.
To stay in your current home, you need to plan and prepare now . Don’t be among those who defer the important decisions about aging because they think it’s too early. Often, when people wait to take action on these matters, they no longer are able to act when the work really needs to be done or don’t even recognize the need for change.
Here are key steps to aging in place.
Weigh the finances. There are financial advantages and disadvantages to staying where you are. Give them an honest assessment and balancing. You should do this in writing, because the decision needs to be re-evaluated every year or two so you can determine if the balance has changed.
Many people believe aging in place is less expensive. Of course, there are one-time costs to leaving your home, such as selling and moving expenses and the costs of entering the new home or community. It also is true there are sizeable fees for living in continuing care retirement communities or assisted living facilities.
But staying in your home might not be cheap. Yes, the home might be paid for, but there are continuing expenses. Many people overlook the long-term expenses: maintenance, repairs and upgrades needed to maintain a home’s value and function. Your home likely is one of your most valuable assets. You should want that value to be there if you need the equity or to leave as a legacy for your heirs.
Over time, you’re likely to need to hire people to do things you no longer can, such as repairs, cleaning, cooking and even personal assistance. That increases the cost of staying at home. Of course, real estate taxes are likely to increase every year.
Keep in mind that the costs of staying in your home are likely to increase over time. If it’s economical to stay in your home now, it might not be in a few years.
Once all the factors are considered, the cost of aging in place isn’t as cost-effective as many people initially think. That’s why you need to re-evaluate regularly and watch for when the tipping point is approaching.
Maintaining social connections. Cost isn’t the most important factor. Perhaps the most important factor in aging well is having social interaction and connections.
The research shows that a major problem for older Americans is social isolation. Lack of personal contact and connections leads to depression and loneliness. People deteriorate faster both mentally and physically when their social connections are reduced. Older people who are active socially tend to be happier and healthier.
If you want to age in place, will you be able to establish and maintain social contacts? Do you have close friends and relatives nearby? If so, will they remain there and will you be able to see them regularly? Will you be able to establish new relationships as people you know move or pass away?
Consider that at some point you won’t be able to drive or won’t want to drive regularly. Night vision naturally deteriorates, and many people avoid driving after dark as they age. What will happen to your social connections at that point? It might not be a problem if there is reliable alternate transportation available. Often, those living outside of urban areas find being able to drive is essential to maintaining quality of life.
Technology can help somewhat in maintaining social connections. But you need a certain amount of in-person contact with people close to you that technology can’t replace.
Social connections are one reason people give for wanting to age in place. They cite nearby family, longtime friends, their faith community, clubs and similar contacts. But keep in mind that you often can stay in the same general community and maintain those contacts without staying in the same home. You might be able to shift to a nearby living unit, that’s better suited for the older you.
One of the advantages of apartment-style independent living or assisted living communities is social connections are more frequent and easier to make. You don’t have to leave the building to meet people, and there are a lot of people to meet. A range of activities is on the calendar. You only have to choose those that interest you. Shutterstock
Who will help you? Transportation and other services you take for granted today require some thought. You need to go to medical appointments, buy groceries and other essentials, run errands and simply get out of the house. There might be public services to help you, and there also might be non-profit groups set up to meet these needs.
Some communities have various networks in place to help their older residents with these services. Innovative concepts implemented in different localities include the “village” concept and naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs). Details vary, but in general one or more non-profit groups in the area serve as a clearinghouse to match providers to those with needs. Often there are fees for the services. The idea is you have the benefits of a retirement community without moving.
What’s probably most important is that you have one or more people you trust who can monitor your quality of life. There should be people you’ll listen to who will tell you when living on your own has reduced your quality of life and it’s time to consider another arrangement.
Planning the transition. People often reach a point when they could stay in their homes with a little help with tasks such as cleaning, preparing meals, or other homemaking chores. Declining vision, aching joints, or other physical issues might make it difficult to deal with mail, pay bills, read, or even safely go for a walk. In many areas there are services, known generally as homemaking or companion services, to help with these tasks for a fee. They also can help remind people to take medication, go to appointments and do similar tasks.
You also might be able to have a home health aide or visiting nurse provide medical care or attention when needed so you can stay in the home.
Assess the availability of these services in your area and how much they cost. Hiring these services in your home can be an alternative to moving, provided you also can maintain social connections.
Prepare your home. After determining staying in your home is a good idea, be sure the home will accommodate your needs as you age. You need to make any modifications before you need them to reduce the chances of an accident or that you won’t be able to arrange the modifications when they’re needed.
Our bodies change as we age, and our homes need to change. Reduced vision (especially in the dark), less mobility and joint problems such as arthritis can be less of a problem when a home is modified for them. Some changes to the home are easy and fairly inexpensive. Knobs on doors and cabinets can be changed to levers. Rugs and other items can be removed to reduce the risk of tripping. Strong handrails can be put on stairs. Grab bars and chairs can be installed in showers and tubs. Interior lights can be brightened and equipped with motion detectors.
Some homes aren’t suitable for an aging person without significant changes. Sometimes an elevator should be installed or the master bedroom should be moved to the main living floor.
Not everything required for a home to accommodate aging in place is obvious. Good source of ideas for modifying a home include the National Association of Home Builders (which can refer you to Certified Aging in Place Specialists) and AARP.
Review and update. Your personal situation will change. Your home will change. And the services available to you will change. You and people you can trust and rely on should review these factors regularly and assess whether aging in place remains the best solution for you. I am the editor of Retirement Watch, a monthly newsletter and web site I founded in 1990. I research and write about all the financial issues of retirement and retirement planning, for both those planning retirement and already retired. I cover estate planning, Medicare, lon…