An older man's hands gently pressed together as part of an Aging Safely in Place resource

Can You Safely Age in Place?

Nathan Colburn Education, Newsletter

While many people wish to age in place in their home, the reality is that this may not be the best or safest option for everyone. A recent AARP study found that more than 70 percent of people over the age of 50 would want to remain in their homes as they get older. However planning ahead to help you age in your home can be difficult because your needs may change suddenly or be different than those you had anticipated. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the future. Instead, talk with your family and friends about how you can maximize your independence, well-being, and safety rather than worrying about finding exactly the right solution.

Involving adult children or close friends in the conversation about your desires to age in place is crucial. While our natural tendency is to want to maintain our freedom and self-sufficiency without interference as long as possible, the reality is that our loved ones and those who care about our well-being may notice potential challenges that we have overlooked. As you turn your attention towards the future and begin to consider whether aging in your home is an option for you, here are some things to consider:

In Your Home

  • Stairs and Levels – Falls are the number one cause of preventable hospitalizations. Moving through your home can be difficult if your gate is unsteady or if you have trouble with your balance. Stairs don’t have to prevent you from aging in your home, but you do need to have a plan for how to get from one level of your home to another. A stair lift provides a safe way for you to access upstairs bedrooms or a downstairs laundry room. Installing a stair lift in your home is an excellent solution and can be in place in just a few days. Custom railings in your home can make those short two or three step transitions safer and more manageable. Adding a decorative steel rail to these shorter sets of stairs is a popular solution.
  • Hallways, Doors, and Doorways – Did you know that you overlook barriers to mobility in your home every day? Thresholds that are not flush with the floor and doorways or hallways that are too narrow for a wheelchair or a walker are all areas which may prohibit you from moving through your home freely. Adding small threshold ramps, widening doorways or installing expandable door hinges can help remove these barriers and make transitioning from one room in your home to the next possible.
  • Bathrooms – Stepping over a high tub side to get in or out of the shower is one of the most common dangers in a home. Changing the configuration of your bathroom to include a Eurostyle or barrier-free shower can make it easier for you to take care of your daily hygiene needs. A barrier-free shower allows you to simply walk in alone or with a walker or roll in with a wheelchair. Modifying your bathroom with grab bars to help you move in and out of your tub or shower and reduce the risk of falls is vital. Grab bars can also be placed next to the toilet to help you transition from sitting to standing. The height of your toilet can be modified with a riser or an elevated toilet seat to help make the transition even safer and simpler. Counter and vanity heights can be lowered to make access easier from a wheelchair.
  • Access to Your Home – Steps, slopes, and extended sidewalks can make entering or leaving your home difficult. There are many ways that access to your home can be changed to accommodate changes in accessibility. Ramps, stairlifts, and vertical platform lifts can provide easy access no matter how your mobility changes.

The home you love will require general upkeep and maintenance. Consider whether you will be able to take care of cleaning out your gutters, cleaning bathrooms and dusting crown molding or whether you will need to hire outside help. These costs will need to be factored into your budget for daily living.

Personal Considerations
One of the most significant concerns facing seniors is loneliness. If your friends and family are not nearby or have mobility challenges of their own, you may find that you’re spending a lot of time alone. For those who enjoy living alone or are able to get out and visit when they want, aging in place is ideal. Maintaining an active social life is essential to keep depression and feelings of isolation at bay. Those who live alone are prone to eating less frequently and neglecting their shopping, so malnutrition becomes a concern as well. Seniors who cannot tolerate having strangers come into their homes to assist with hands-on help may not be a good candidate for aging in their home.

Community Resources
While you may be able to drive and move about freely now, there may come a time when that is not the case. Ensuring that your home is located near medical facilities, senior centers, shopping, and entertainment can help determine if a relocation may be necessary. Seniors who don’t have friends, family or access to reliable public transportation may find that being too far away from these everyday necessities is a problem.

Neighborhood and Regional Considerations
The community and neighborhood around your home has most likely changed over the years. What was once a quiet and peaceful area may no longer be safe for a senior living alone. Local law enforcement and community watch groups can offer data about the area which can help determine if you feel comfortable staying in the area. While not everyone dreams of spending their retirement in Florida, for some health conditions a milder climate may be advisable. A move closer to the family with a better climate may be an option that allows you to age in your home and enjoy the benefits of better weather and more support.

Other factors like the ability to manage medications, finances, and personal safety must also be considered when it comes time to think about aging in place. When it comes time to talk about your wishes to age in place, it is best to surround yourself with those who can be supportive yet honest about your current abilities and the future possibilities. Be realistic about where you can get assistance for daily living tasks like meal preparation, medication management and housecleaning and the costs associated with those services.