By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
In other words, it’s the ability to avoid or delay living out one’s last days or years in an institutional and/or medical environment.
Aging in place is a goal most of us aspire to. In fact, according to research by the American Association of Retired Persons, (aarp.org), nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible, and 80 percent believe their current residence is where they will always live.
But the reality is that as people age, their health, eyesight and mobility may decline, and their environment may need to be adapted to ensure their continued safety. They will likely need some degree of assistance, whether that is physical help or just good advice.
Fortunately there are a variety of home modifications, new technologies, and home health services that make aging in place more viable than ever. It’s never too early to plan now for the future and best done when one is still in good health and of sound mind.
One of the biggest challenges of aging is the heightened risk of falling. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), 2.8 million older people are treated in
emergency departments for fall injuries each year. One out of five falls will cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own.
Some safety adaptations to consider: installing non-slip flooring, grab handles in the bath or shower, a curb-less walk-in shower, a walk-in bath tub, a comfort height toilet, an elevator or stair-lift, and lever-style doorknobs. These modifications can be expensive so
financial situations must be considered. Currently, many home modifications may be tax deductible as medical expenses.
If it becomes necessary to use a wheelchair, doorways may need to be widened to between 34 and 36 inches. Swing-free hinges can also trim about 2 inches of clearance from a doorway. Consider removing cabinets from under sinks to allow access. Entry steps will
need to be replaced with ramps.
It’s important to get rid of unnecessary clutter, furniture and possessions while you still have the energy and ability to do so. And toss out the throw rugs that could cause a fall. A
neat and uncluttered home is easier to take care of, clean, and provides better safety and maneuverability.
Be sure to empty the attic while still physically fit (or have someone else do it for you) and make a point of keeping it empty. You’ll want to avoid risking a fall from a ladder when you are older.
Have your vision checked regularly. Make sure to install night lights in each room of the house and throughout hallways. Switch to LED lighting which doesn’t need to be changed as often as regular bulbs.
Eat healthy, get recommended amounts of calcium and Vitamin D for bone health, and have an exercise regimen that improves leg strength and balance, such as Tai Chi.
Technology is also improving our ability to stay in our homes. Devices available now include noise-canceling hearing aids, smart canes and walkers, medical help alarms and a variety of home sensors that monitor systems and people. Home robots can provide help
and communications to family members and caregivers.
While older people often lose their ability or desire to drive as they age, computers offer the ability to order nearly everything we need online. More and more groceries and pharmacies are getting into the home-delivery service. And self-driving cars appear to be set to carry us wherever we want in the not too distant future.
Of course nothing takes the place of good, old-fashioned companionship. Home health care services abound and caregivers can provide that social interaction and camaraderie that is
so vital to elders. They can help with bathing, shopping, medicines, light housekeeping and more.
Make sure to consult your local Area Agency on Aging to find out about resources and support services that are available to older Americans. Their goal is to keep seniors living independently in their own homes while enjoying quality of life.
Ultimately a person’s health and mental status will determine whether or not aging in place is an option. But it can be a more desirable, affordable, and satisfying choice as long as safety, medical, transportation and social needs are met.