March 21, 2017

Aging in Place: Can You Do It?


A growing trend among retirees is the desire to remain in one's home as long as possible. In fact, a recent study quoted by AARP shows 87% of those 65+ want to age in place for as long as it is safe. Even among those 10 years younger, 71% would opt to stay put. Familiarity and community ties are the biggest draws.

Even so, the market for retirement communities remains strong, such as Jimmy Buffett's new retirement community approach. Sun City communities and other planned offerings have adjusted to a more active lifestyle and the positives of providing care that includes nursing home facilities. 

The ability to choose between staying home or moving to a retirement community or coop housing setup is a new development. In part, it has occurred because there are more options available to receive medical care in one's home. With nursing facility costs out of reach for many retirees, it is good news that other choices exist.

For purposes of this post, let's assume you would like to stay where you are for as long as you can. What do you need to consider for this to be a logical, safe, and enjoyable decision? Here are several factors to mill over:

1. Is your housing safe for aging in place?

A single story home is almost a necessity. Certainly, your bedroom and bathroom should be on the first floor. As our knees and hips start to act up, a two or three story dwelling becomes dangerous. In addition to our joints, our balance erodes over time, making stairs a constant hazard. Adding stair lifts is expensive and not always feasible. 

Doors must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers. The cabinets you use every day should be low enough to reach from a sitting position. Door knobs can be replaced with level handles. Throw rugs should be eliminated since they are a serious tripping hazard. The list of changes to your home can be long, but it is important. Take a fresh look at your home and decide what would have to be modified. Have an expert check your roof, heating and cooling system, electrical, and plumbing too.

2. Does your community help seniors age in place?

When you can no longer drive, is there a bus or senior transportation system that can take you to stores and medical appointments? Would you be comfortable using a taxi or Uber-type service? Are there any tax breaks for seniors, like a freeze on property taxes? Is there an active senior center that you can use? Are health care facilities, as well as an adequate choice of doctors, within a reasonable distance? 

3. Do you have options when you must move out?

Are there good nursing home facilities in your area? Is there usually a long waiting list? When it is time to make that move, you will probably not be up to a long move or a long delay. Facilities that are nearby give you the opportunity to visit them on a regular basis. As you get nearer to making that move you will know which ones have maintained their standards, quality of care, and affordability. 

4. Do you like where you live?

Not only does your home have to be safe as you age, it should make you happy and be in an area you enjoy. There is no point in staying in your present home if the neighborhood is less than ideal, the closest shopping is several miles away, and the yard or living space take constant maintenance and upkeep. If you feel more like a prisoner in your home rather than comfortable and relaxed, consider finding another place to age in place. There are enough struggles without adding unhappiness with your current home.

For many, being close to family and friends are keys to deciding to age in place. In addition to the joy they can add to one's life, having relatives and good friends to help with life's little challenges is a blessing. Even something as simple as a drive to the doctor's office or the car repair shop is easier when someone you know is along for the ride. It makes aging in place less stressful.


Deciding to age at home for as long as possible is a choice many of us are making. If this includes you, please be sure to review the steps above. Make your decision not just emotional, but is one that will keep you safe, secure, and protected.

There are plenty of on-line resources to help you decide if this is right for you. Age in Place is one I found that seems like a  good place to start.


20 comments:

  1. In our early 60's we're still considering age-ing in place, but who knows what a couple more decades will bring? We learned a lot from watching our families struggle with these decisions. I can't imagine a better place than our current paid-for home in a happy suburb, for a long time. Gilbert has senior transport available, and a busy Senior center. We have used Lyft and Uber and love it. I would hire a teen or college student to drive me around too, if necessary. Our home has wide hallways, is single story, and has all the amenities we want to enjoy. A dear friend of mine recently moved to a casita in Friendship Village, at age 78--she's bright and busy tailed,still works aprt time as a social worker, and has a VERY active social life..but she wanted the security of a helpful community, and the lifetime health care afforded by this move. I admire her and look to her a mentor on healthy age-ing. So-- I guess our answer is, we plan to age in place as long as we can, but I keep a research file on what's available "later.." I sure do like the idea of spending my 80's and 90's in Margaritaville!! Enjoying the present moments,while looking ahead, always a good idea!!

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    1. I will always thank my parents for their decision to move into Friendship Village when they did. Their goal was to keep their children from having to take on the burden of constant care in a private home. Just a few years after the move, my mom began her rather rapid decline and death. My dad would not have been able to provide the care she needed if it had been his primary responsibility, even with in-house nursing help.

      Betty and I moved to a single story home about 2 years ago. We knew those 14 stairs to the master bedroom level in the old house would have become a danger at some point. How long will we live here? Who knows, but a retirement facility is somewhere in our future.

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  2. I'm an ostrich with my head in the sand on this issue. You've seen my house. It is not set up as you describe in #1. Yet I want to stay here as long as possible. I love my neighbors and my neighborhood. I'm encouraged by the fact that I bought this house from the estate of a woman who lived here till she died. I'm hoping her spirit will help me follow in her footsteps. But things can change, so I'm trying (not very hard) to stay open to other possibilities.

    On a related point, I think about my cabin, too. I go up there every other weekend by myself. It's not set up with aging in mind. I'd hate to give it up, but I know at some point I might have to.

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    1. Yes, both your homes are full of hazards, but also lots of memories. That is what makes it so tough. Take comfort in the fact that you are still a young, vibrant woman (our idea of "young" changes with our age!) who has many years of enjoying both properties.

      The guess the answer is you will know when the time is right to remove a potential burden from your kids. Until then, minimize risks and enjoy. I'd fight until the last practical minute to stay in your house with that great backyard!

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  3. 1.Yes, except there are a step and a half on the entrance and I may be loooking at a ramp at some point, the budget can handle it. I dont know if eveyr door would handle a wheel chairk but they all handle my walker and the living spaces are open. 2.I haven't investigated this the way I should, honestly, But I know there is a senior bus that goes to the mall and bookstores, and the grocery store and such, a senior center that offers lunch,and our community has folks who shovel and mow for seniors.3. I do have options, and very likely may move onece more to a very smal apartment or condo. I can use lyft as I need to as well as the options above. And these days you can get almost anything delivered to the house.

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    1. You are right: things are much easier today with so many options for home delivery and services. In your climate that becomes more important as venturing out in the snow and ice takes on additional risks.

      One thing you will never have to worry about: getting chilly. Just wrap yourself in one of your beautiful quilts!

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  4. Wow, this is a timely post. When I retire this year, we plan to move closer to our kids. We are looking at potential communities and houses. Our sights have narrowed down to the small city where my daughter is, or three smaller communities that cluster around it. My daughter's city is has good medical and transportation facilities, but is very hilly and a little busier than we prefer. We are searching for a place where we can get to know people and become part of the community. One of the smaller nearby towns is a popular retirement destination and quite lovely, but we are having difficulty finding housing that we like there. Another is a wooded peninsula, which appeals to us very much, but the services are quite limited there. The third choice is on an island, accessed from a ferry that leaves from the dock in the downtown of my daughter's city. We love the area and the houses there and sense of community, and it would fit our lifestyle perfectly now in our sixties. But, would we be able to age in place, and would the ferry trip become problematic (e.g., if there was a health emergency)? Questions to ponder, for sure.

    Jude

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    1. You have several important questions to answer, Jude. Personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable as I get older living on an island that is only connected to the mainland by a ferry. When bad weather or sudden illness strikes, that could be a life-threatening issue.

      I am sure, after lots of discussions with your daughter, you two will make the best choice that blends what you want with what you need.

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  5. Since 2009 I have been aging in place and it works well for me. I am open to change but this suits me. My house is one story which is a plus, thinking ahead and I like having my garden, my church, volunteering I do, family and friends near by.

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    1. You didn't mention your scrapbooking! That is something you can enjoy for years to come.

      What you described is what most of us want as we age. Where to do it becomes a question that each of us must answer.

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  6. I think about my 84 yr old mother still living in the country. She goes out in the morning to clean her sidewalk in the winter and in the summer she'll tend to a flower and vegetable garden. She has no desire to leave her place even though she's getting more feeble. I'm confident that some of what she does contributes to her physical well-being yet it may also be her demise. All this talk about medical emergencies; what's the worst outcome - death? I would rather see my mother die in her garden than in a care home where the care may be less than optimum given the current state of long term care in this province.

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    1. Dying while doing something you love, in a place you love, is probably how most of us want to go. The only worry is to injure oneself and not be able to summon help. It is a tough balancing act, between freedom and responsibility. I wish your mom a long and continuingly productive life.

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  7. We are hoping to age in place, but I am realistic enough to know it might not be possible. We live in a semi-rural area outside a small city with great health care (a real plus) and friends and family nearby. Our yard is large enough that DH mows with a rider, and I tend some rather large gardens. Both OK so far, but long term, we will need to hire at least the mowing done. (I'm planting more perennials every year...ha!) Our home is two story, but we have the ability to move to one floor (bath, laundry, bedroom). That said, my mom is 85 and still living well on two floors, and DH's mom is 94 and only moved to a retirement village a couple of years ago. So we are hopeful we can maintain for quite a while yet.

    Not to be morbid or tempt fate, but I have also seen most of my female family members outlive at least one husband, sometimes two. So I am also prepared to move myself back to condo or retirement community living if/when necessary. I don't think I'd want to keep this property up alone.
    --Hope

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    1. You and hubby have your eyes open about your situation and understand that adjustments will have to be made...More perennials!

      The fact that tend to outlive men makes long-term planning even more important, both living conditions and a solid awareness of finances.

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  8. We have your first three points covered nicely, and while we love our home, I do have 4 acres to yard to work, and we are about seven miles from town. Other than those two points it is a piece of cake. Don't want to be the proverbial ostrich but I'll worry about changes if/when it gets to that point. Of course it might be a mute point if we get to the point we feel would make us most happy - sell the home and travel twelve months out of the year. Would definitely make it easier on Deb if anything happens to me, since she cannot/will not take care of this big house. Sad that we all have to face the issue some day, but at least it means we will have lived long and hopefully happy lives getting there.

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    1. I like your ending comment that facing these issues at some point in the future implies we have lived a long life just getting there. 4 acres..beautiful but the upkeep must be quite a lot.

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  9. WHERE you live would be a consideration for sure.When we lived for one and a half years in a rural area, the hospital was half an hour away, down a dark and twisty mountain road. And it snowed, got icy,hailed,etc. in winter. While living there, a friend of mine fell on ice going out to get her news paper.She laid there unconscious for? half an hour?? woke up,called a friend to take her the half hour away to the hospital.No neighbors around to see her laying there unconscious! Another friends husband drank too much (common story in the town where we lived..) and fell down a long flight of stairs in their home. Again,half an hour ride to the hospital down the dark twisty mountain road, with frantic wife at the wheel. Another acquanitance became VERY ILL on New Year's eve, the night of a HUGE snow/ice storm.. kidney failure.Luckily,her son was staying with her and had 4 wheel drive, took him a looong time to get down the hill to the medical center (which was a small facility, they mostly air- evaced people to Phoenix!! So she got quite the new year's eve adventure!!) A success story: ANOTHER friend up there had pressure in his chest driving, on way home from real estate job..called 911.Local firefighters told him to pull into the parking lot of the large church there, and they had called a helicopter..they did fly him to Phoenix promptly and he had heart surgery for what was a massive heart attack. Timing! I would not advise age-ing in place in a town without medical facilities, or neighbors close by!!!!! I could write a book about that 18 months!!!!!!!

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    1. Your stories are important because they highlight one of the most important factors we face as we age: health care and facilities. Regardless of where the current mess with our healthcare setup ends, the truth is a good facility close by can save your life, or that of a loved one.

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  10. When we purchased, I made a very deliberate choice to get a single level home with only a 4" curb to the inside with an easy ramp option and all the other bells such as a walk in shower and wide hallways. I cannot assume that I'll be able to stay here long enough to matter but I think that resale values will be quite high because of those features in the next 20 years. It can't hurt to pay attention to these things even in homes that we don't expect to keep!

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    1. You make an excellent point about planning ahead. The safety and convenience features of your home are exactly what aging experts suggest. I hadn't thought about it until your comment, but our new home has a 3 inch rise to the front door, easily accommodating a ramp if need be.

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