Baby Boomers are talking a lot about “aging in place” – but does it mean exactly what we think it does?
“Aging in place.” It’s a senior care buzzword that we hear a lot these days, especially as us Baby Boomers age, retire, and consider our living options.
But what is it exactly? And how do we accomplish it?
Believe it or not, aging in place is actually a phrase that’s been kicked around for a decade, says Marty Bell, executive director of the National Aging in Place Council, an informational resource and advocate for aging in place. “I’m amazed at how quickly the volume has been turned up on this [recently],” Bell says, although “it’s not surprising in that the over-60 population is going to be the largest single segment of society in the next 20 years.”
So let’s start by taking a look at what we think aging in place entails.
“Beyond meaning to stay in your home for as long as you can as opposed to moving to a health facility, it still isn’t clearly defined in the minds of Americans,” Bell says. “We feel like aging in place has to be a system. What it really is, is assisted living in your own home. How do you get that assistance? That’s the question; that’s what we’ve been focused on, trying to set up a system to deliver the assistance that seniors need to make it as easy as possible.”
Bell says that the problem with the aging movement in America is that there are many people doing brilliant things to find solutions, but there’s not enough awareness of all of it. That’s where his group steps in with its mission of having chapters across the country to help people with in-home health care, geriatric care management, elder law attorneys, home improvements, financial advisors, and so forth.
Surveys, Bells says, show that 90 percent of people would rather age in place where they’re at now.
“Everybody’s greatest fear is going into a facility where they lose their independence – a nursing home or being in the hospital,” Bell says. “But too many people think aging in place is staying in the home you’re in, which I don’t like to encourage. The home you’re in may be the right place, or there might be alternatives that are better for you while still maintaining your independence.”
Besides the home, apartment or condo you live in now, Bell says that aging in place could mean staying a senior living facility, or moving to a house that’s more affordable than the one you live in now, or one that’s modified to accommodate specific needs.
“I don’t think it matters where you age in place – it just means that you’re someplace where you’re living independently and not in a full-time health care facility,” Bell says. “Staying in your own house is maybe overemphasized.”
The Council held a summit of leaders in aging for a two-day session and came up with five keys to aging in place. They are home, personal finance, health and wellness, transportation, and social interaction and community involvement.
“What aging in place encourages is not waiting for disaster to strike to find solutions,” Bell says. “It’s planning for aging. People go to college and plan to have a career. They have children and plan to send their kids to college. A lot of times when it gets to aging, they haven’t made any plans.”
People need to ask if they’re in the right home or apartment and does it facilitate everything they need. That includes asking if you can afford it and making home renovations such as grab bars for bathrooms to make them safer. Some people need a kitchen with a counter where they can sit down and prepare food.
Others might live in a two-story home and can’t use the steps anymore, so they need to a set up a master bedroom on the first floor. Some need a wider doorway or ramp if they are in a wheel chair.
That starts with knowing if you can afford what you need to age in place and are taking advantage of the benefits that are out there for you on local, state and federal levels. The National Council on Aging has a site called www.benefitscheckup.com where you can access benefits for food, prescriptions, utilities, transportation, and other services. “You have sit down and budget your life and look at your expenses versus your income to see if you have enough to pay your expenses,” Bell says. “If not, look for sources of benefits that maybe available to you, or maybe downsize.” That may include looking at reverse mortgages, which are increasingly being used to finance elderly care and aging in place.
HEALTH AND WELLNES
Bell says you have to be honest about your health needs and budget for it, especially down the line because everyone is going to face severe health problems at some point in their lives.
This is the most difficult issue to solve because a large part of the country doesn’t have public transportation. There are, however, organizations throughout the country that have programs for older people to get free transportation. In Atlanta, a group raises money to pay for the elderly’s use of the Uber car service, for example.
SOCIAL INTERACTION AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
“The biggest fear we hear from seniors every day is loneliness,” Bell says. Many people can address that problem through volunteerism and joining groups for interaction – Bell cited a group in Maine that connects people through their computer and televisions to socialize and have discussion groups during winter, when people are isolated due to rough weather. A group in Idaho has a dance troupe to socialize and raise money for charity. “It’s a great way to come together for the social interaction they need,” Bell says. Bell says there are holes that need to be filled with aging in place such as having a greater network of financial advisors to provide advice to people.