For Older Americans Month, questions about aging in place and staying at home
Older adults are taking center stage, not as members of a dance troupe, chorale or symphony, but to be the featured players for Older Americans Month. May is set aside to celebrate older Americans from the past and those alive today for their contribution to society.
This formal recognition of older Americans began with President Kennedy in 1963 when he designated May as “Senior Citizens Month” during a meeting with the National Council of Senior Citizens. That was when only 17 million Americans reached their 65th birthday compared to over 50 million today or 16.5 percent of our population. About one-third of those 17 million lived in poverty with few programs to meet their needs.
This year’s theme, “Aging in Place” focuses on how older adults can plan to stay in their homes and live independently in their communities for as long as possible.
According to a recent AARP survey, 77 percent of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long-term, a number consistent for more than a decade.
Here are a few questions to consider in making the decision to remain in your residence:
Does my home accommodate limited mobility? According to the same AARP report, one-third of the participants indicated they would have to modify their current residence to live safely. Changes included modifying bathrooms with grab bars and no-step showers, having a bathroom and room on the first floor; a room that could be used as a bedroom.
Do I have accessible health care? This can be a problem for those living in rural areas. Studies have found that physical health is worse in the rural population than in the urban population. It is even worse for older adults who have greater healthcare needs with fewer resources. A major concern for many is having adequate transportation as well as having tech skills and a computer for telehealth appointments.
Am I part of a community? Social isolation is considered a national epidemic. Since the pandemic, it has amplified. We need to ask, “Where is my community?” The answer might be family members, friends or a religious community. It may be interest groups on books, music, knitting, stocks and finances, bridge or mahjong, gardening or an alumni association. Then there is the Village, a membership organization with the mission to support older adults who want to age in place and specifically for those who want to remain connected to their communities. The Village itself is a community. See those in South Bay Village, Palos Verdes Peninsula Village and Westside Pacific Village.
Do I feel safe? Feeling safe in our homes may require an alarm system. We need to prevent falls, which may require making some changes. For example, eliminate throw rugs, create sufficient lighting both inside and outside, remove electric cords in pathways, employ safety features in the bathroom and use a nightlight. If living alone, consider a personal emergency response system. I recently discovered that the Apple Watch has a built-in emergency response system.
“Aging-in-place is not a plan” according to Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Road Map for Single and Childless Adults,” (Mango Publishing, 2018). She says, “At best, it is an aspiration that can be dangerous for many people. Solo agers (older adults with no children or familial support) are especially vulnerable when they adhere to a rigid determination to age in place. After a fall or other in-home incident, we often hear ‘he was then moved to an assisted living facility.’ Who facilitated that move? Almost always, an adult child. Without a contingency plan for this kind of crisis, solo agers would have no control over their own future.”
For many, aging in place may not be an option. Rather than aging in place, they may be “stuck in place” because they do not have the financial resources to help them move or they cannot afford to live in nursing homes, according to Linna Zhu of the Urban Institute as referenced in the AARP report.
The important message is to be aware of what is involved to age in our own place. Consider future needs and preferences and determine if the current living environment is aligned with anticipated needs and preferences. Then act accordingly.
Beyond the important theme of Older Americans Month, we are reminded to acknowledge and treasure our older friends, relatives, acquaintances and public figures – past and present – for who they are and for their contributions in making our communities and society a better place.
Happy Older Americans Month! Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.