Choosing to avoid institutional care: If you want to age in place, make housing choices while you’re still healthy

How and where older adults choose to retire will have long-term ramifications for communities and families as the Boomers age.  A study from AgeWave, a research think tank focused on aging issues, found that stereotypes society has about older Americans fall short of the truth.  For instance, most older adults don’t move to sunnier climates, downsize their homes or renovate for aging concerns.

In fact, older adults tend to think of the first decade or two after their retirement as a period of freedom.  During this phase, people live longer, healthier and more actively than previous generations.  They can choose to live where they want so many do move, they just do not necessarily move to sunnier climes.  Instead, they tend to stay in the same state (83 percent of those who moved stayed in their current state) but move closer to relatives or other loved ones or favorite activities.  Those that did not choose to move often cited an emotional connection to their current abode.

Half of those surveyed did not downsize at all and about a third of the people who bought new homes purchased bigger homes so that family members could visit or live with them.  Only about 7 percent of older adults moved into an age-restricted retirement community probably because studies show that more than any other group, older adults prefer diversity in age and generation in their communities and currently those places don’t offer that as an option.

During this phase too, the most popular renovation projects do not include the standard list of grab bars, wider hallways or ramps.  Instead, they include things like a home office to allow them to continue working in their retirement.

The second phase, when people turn 80 or so, finds that health becomes an increasingly important factor in deciding living arrangements.  The average age for people entering assisted living communities does not occur until around age 85, probably when they discover it’s unsafe to continue living in the family home.

How does that affect the kinds of services and communities we will need as America becomes an increasingly older nation?  An often-quoted research study from AARP found that nearly 90 percent of Americans hope to remain in their own home as they age.  Their own home is where they hope to access extended care if they need it.

Dr. Stephen Golant in his new book, “Aging in the Right Place” argues that aging in place doesn’t work for everyone.  Golant, a University of Florida professor who specializes in gerontology, has studied aging for over 3 decades.  What he found in his studies was that moderate-income seniors struggle because they find themselves unable to qualify for the government programs that offer affordable housing and services to low-income members of society, yet are themselves unable to afford the housing and services the private sector offers to those with more means.  The consequence is that staying at home doesn’t work for the majority of them because they need activities or amenities not available to them in their current environment.

New technologies and a growing number of home care providers make it increasingly possible for older adults, even those with health challenges to continue living independently at home.  Unfortunately, many people put no effort whatsoever into taking steps to make their home into the type of place that is safe or healthy while they are still in the first phase.   Instead, they wait until a chronic health condition forces the issue.  The result is that because of their home, they need care.  Rather than retaining the ability to live independently, they increasingly need to rely on others to meet their basic needs and while they hoped to depend upon family members or professionals, those individuals often fall short of being able to provide appropriate care.

Choosing where to age should be a decision made while older adults are in the first phase of retirement.  In that stage, they are able to take the time to find appropriate housing options and if need be make adjustments if the first option doesn’t work out.  In elder law attorney Rajiv Nagaich’s experience, people should be making their final housing decisions around age 70.  At that age most people are planning rather than responding to an emergency.  Golant reminds people in his book that the hallmark of successful aging is being proactive in planning rather than being reactive after a crisis.  Making appropriate well-thought out decisions can improve circumstances even for those with poor health, disabilities or other disadvantages.

If the job seems too overwhelming an Occupational Therapist can perform an assessment and make crucial recommendations.

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Posted in Geriatric Care Manager, News.

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