What Does Aging in Place Really Mean?

In-Home Care

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Most people would like to continue living at home as they age, or with family if necessary. Nearly everyone wants as much independence as possible as they get older. The concept of aging independently is central to the idea of “aging in place.” Aging in place looks like different things to different people, and some people will have to move along the spectrum as they age. Aging in place is just a term for living as independently as possible in a comfortable, familiar environment.

To age in place is to live in a chosen residence for as long as possible with one’s most important possessions and routines without sacrificing quality of life. For most, this means that adjustments must be made to make the residence safer and easier to navigate and often additional services, like in-home nursing care, are needed to make aging in place possible.

 

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Downsizing to a ranch house or condo may also be necessary for maximum ease and comfort. Senior living communities are an additional option that lends support and resources as residents age. Aging in place does not mean continuing to live in the same house even though it is not conducive to one’s changing needs and dealing with limited access or difficulty obtaining necessities. The goal is to settle in a residence that is supportive and will provide the best quality of life.

Aging in place presents unique challenges, including medical, social, and emotional needs that must be met. These problems can be most effectively addressed with extensive planning long before issues arise. Well-laid plans will not prevent problems from arising (some issues related to aging are inevitable) but they can make it possible to remain in a comfortable environment and continue to lead a fulfilling life beyond retirement.

 

Obstacles

Preparing for aging will not prevent all the problems that come with it. Even with a good diet, exercise, and mental exertion, the loss of some mental and physical capabilities is inevitable. These should be accepted in order to prepare for them adequately. However, not all of the changes that occur with age are bad. With age also comes wisdom and patience, and with retirement comes more time to pursue one’s ambitions.

There are several changes that come with aging that are subtle and may develop unnoticed, so it is important to be aware of them so they can be detected and addressed early. Possible changes might include worsening eyesight, which can be spotted early with regular eye exams. In addition, reduced strength, diminished mobility, and worsened balance, is inevitable with age to a certain degree, and usually happens so slowly it may not be obvious. However, with frequent exercise, a necessary component to aging comfortably, comes increased awareness of one’s abilities. When tracking one’s progress while exercising, it should be easier to spot a decrease in ability and compensate for that deficiency to maintain health and prevent falls or injuries.

Being aware of the inevitable changes that come with growing older, makes it possible to prepare for them. More educated decisions can be made about future residence, activities, and routines. These changes affect most daily routines, including running errands, taking public transportation, driving, cleaning and maintaining a home, and caring for one’s health. So the more forethought that goes into aging, the easier it will be to complete daily tasks comfortably.

 

Planning

To comfortably age in place, preparations should be made as soon as possible. While planning for retirement and beyond, the focus should not just be on doing whatever is needed to make sure life does not change significantly as one ages. The years after retirement can be years of expansion, change, adventure, and enjoying life to its fullest. If one is adequately prepared, life after retirement can be more than just achieving a largely unchanged lifestyle but can be a time of self-actualization.

Proper planning includes saving for retirement. A retirement fund should be started as early in one’s career as is feasible. Retirement plans should be started early, then revisited and reworked many times as time goes on to ensure that the plans still suit one’s changing needs and wants.

There are other ways to plan for aging in place as well that do not include saving for retirement. For example, examining one’s family medical history and identifying possible medical challenges in the future can help with potential housing decisions and making healthy choices in the present, ensuring continued comfort while aging.

 

Implementation

Preparing to age in place usually involves, first of all, preparing one’s home. Adequate preparation could mean building ramps for easier access to the front or back door, installing appliances and devices that can be easily used by someone with reduced vision and mobility, and possibly setting up a medical alert system in case of a fall or other emergency.

It is also important to make sure one’s plans and how they will be carried out are clear to friends and family members to minimize altercations. Also, loved ones can be the greatest sources of aid while aging. They can help prepare a home so that it will have as much utility as possible for senior residents, and be a point of contact in case of emergency. Being independent does not mean refusing help from anyone.

 

Societal Impact

The overall population of the U.S. is aging. The average life expectancy keeps increasing, and with it, the percentage of the population classified as “seniors.” About 16% of the U.S. population is 65 or older according to the U.S. census, and by 2030 that number is estimated to be 20%.

Many people 65 and older live alone or with a spouse at home. However, for the majority of these people, their quality of life has slowly been getting worse. They struggle with daily tasks, experience worsening health, and give up on many of the activities they enjoy.

Because so much of the population is made up of seniors, the problems plaguing people 65 and older put pressure on American healthcare, real estate, infrastructure, and families. There is a fiscal and psychological cost for the whole country. With the growing senior population, resources have to be intelligently devoted to helping people age comfortably. Conversations about aging in place and how we as a society can make that easier need to be more frequent so that individuals and society at large can be prepared for aging.