What is aging in place? Aging in place is a term used to describe a person living in the residence of their choice, for as long as they are able, as they age. This includes being able to have any services (or other support) they might need over time as their needs change.
To be clear: the act of aging in place takes place during a period of time in an elderly person’s life where they can have the things that they need in their daily life, while maintaining their quality of life.
The reason this distinction is important is because many people think aging in place will fix the problems they have in their lives. The only problems that can be fixed while aging in place are the ones that a person has planned for (i.e. finances, health, personal or health care, etc.).
Aging in place planning for quality of life
The focus of aging in place, as stated above, is to help seniors ensure they can live where they choose and get any help they need for as long as they can. It is more than that, though. The goal of an elderly person (or anyone) wanting to age in place should be to maintain and/or improve their quality of life. In order to do that, a good plan that focuses on your quality of life and covers your self, home, finances, care and other items should be created as early as possible. This plan should be maintained over time as your situation changes.
Aging brings changes to us all. As a person begins their aging in place experience, it is important for them to consider and plan for the changes that will happen to them and what impacts these changes will have on their lives. As we age, our bodies and capabilities change. Examples of changes you might experience are:
- Reduced vision
- Decreased muscle strength or endurance
- Reduced mental processing capabilities
- Increased risk of falls due to balance
- Increased risk of illness
- Reduced hearing
- Decreased mobility
These changes happen to most everyone in one form or another. Knowing that this is the case and choosing to have a plan to age in place means you will have a greater change to control your quality of life and independence.
The impact of these changes can be seen in the daily life of an elderly person. While their physical capabilities lessen and needs change, this impacts many activities of daily living (ADL) and other activities, such as:
- Getting around their home as easily
- Driving safely
- Home upkeep
- Health maintenance
- Many others
Planning also presents you with an opportunity to lessen the burden on your family by outlining how and where your needs are met. As well as, lessening the need for emergency assistance from community resources.
Why is Aging in Place Important?
Currently, the majority of senior persons aged 65 and older are living either with a spouse or alone in their own home. Many of these elderly people struggle with everyday tasks, their health care and the lives they lead in their homes. For many, their quality of life goes down as they get older.
As of 2000, there were approximately 35 million Americans over the age of 65. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030 there will be approximately 71.5 million Americans over the age of 65. That number is more than twice what it was in 2000 and represents nearly 20% of the entire projected U.S. population in 2030.
The challenge this number of older Americans will bring to the country is unprecedented. Given the facts surrounding the current economic problems, a failing health care system and the lack of local support systems needed to support older people, this is a serious predicament for our country. But, more importantly, it is a very big problem for millions of Americans who are aging in place (or wish to).
What does it mean to my family?
Issues that families will continue to have to deal with include home remodeling (accessibility, universal design), support issues (finding more time for themselves, balancing work and family responsibilities of caregiving, and managing emotional and physical stress), answers to common problems (home remodeling ideas, long-distance caregiving for those caring for aging parents, lack of a support system), independent living, education and more. All of these issues will need to be dealt with in a way that empowers those aging in place and their caregivers, so people can make informed decisions about their lives and care.
Aging in place is a choice
Deciding you wish to age in place means you are choosing:
- how you want to spend your retirement years
- how you want your home to be set up
- what your health care choices will be
- which types of assistance are right for you
- what your wishes are for major life events (sickness, housing transitions, financial decisions)
Making these choices gives you control over your independence, quality of life and dignity. Most importantly to note, aging in place does not mean you have to do everything yourself; that’s where the plan comes in. It means you get to plan how your needs are met, who meets them and when.
An Aging in Place Plan is Not for ‘Old’ People
It’s for responsible people who want to ensure their quality of life and live it out in dignity, without being a burden to their family or community. Regardless of whether you have retired or not, it’s for you, right now. If you haven’t retired yet, it means you have time to think about your needs, research your options and put together a plan that is good for you and your family. If you have retired, putting the time in to building a plan will help keep you in control of your life. Building a plan will help you deal with issues you will encounter down the road and ease some of the burden your loved ones will experience.
For those caring for an elderly parent or loved one, it’s for you, too. You can be the most help by working with them to ensure their needs are met and wishes are respected. It also will help you provide the level of care that is right for them, and show your respect to them by ensuring their dignity is kept in tact and their needs are met.