Aging in Place May Be the Preference of the Majority of Retirees, but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Best for Everybody
Survey after survey reveals that an overwhelming majority of aging Americans plan to grow old in the home where they’re presently living – in other words, to age in place. The COVID-19 pandemic of the past two years appeared to accelerate that trend, especially because senior living communities often saw the worst outbreaks of the virus and the highest rates of isolation. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, aging in place is the right answer for just about everybody. Or is it?
There’s definitely an argument to be made for staying put as we grow older, but for some that’s not the best option. And for those who do decide to age in place, preparation is key. We most recently highlighted this issue late last year, and the topic bears another look. As retirees consider their housing options, it’s essential that they ask the right questions, and make their housing strategy a cornerstone of their retirement plans.
Aging in Place Can be Great, but Beware of the Flip Side
Retirement writer Ralph Mroz, writing in this article from NextAvenue, offers an argument about aging in place that basically says, not so fast. “Surveys show that most people would prefer to grow older, and even die, in their own home,” Mroz acknowledges. “Aging in place lets you remain in your familiar surroundings, close to friends and possibly family. And there are other advantages” – maintaining independence, enjoying your neighborhood, and staying connected to the stores you like and the church or synagogue you attend.
“But,” he argues, “there’s a flip side to aging in place that needs to be weighed.” For instance, he says, if you can’t get home care when your health declines, you’ll likely have to move again. When you someday stop driving, living on your own can leave you isolated. The cost of caregiving help might prove prohibitive. On top of all that, the home you love today may become a burden in the years ahead, demanding more maintenance and upkeep than you or your budget can handle. With the added cost of care and home maintenance, staying in your home might end up costing more than moving to a retirement community.
Mroz lists six disadvantages of aging in place. Let’s give them a quick review.
Potential Disadvantage Number One: Declining Health
“Your aging in place plan may be going swimmingly,” says the article: “you’ve made the appropriate home modifications, you’re getting the help that you need and you’re doing fine. Then something happens.” It could be a stroke, a debilitating fall, or an accident. You could become suddenly ill or a chronic condition could worsen. When that happens, there’s no time for calm reflection. “Now – right now – you need a different living arrangement,” writes Mroz.
“And,” he continues, “because of the event you haven’t the time, energy or perhaps competence to manage the transition yourself.” This all-too-common scenario is where your loved ones suddenly become enmeshed in your care. “Now you’re at the mercy of whatever help family members may be able to provide. That help may not be much given your distance from them or your relationship with them; some may be too old or infirm themselves to help.” In a case like that, aging in place is often impossible.
Potential Disadvantage Number Two: Costly Home Repair
“We’ve all been in older people’s homes that were in disrepair, even if they could afford to keep them up,” says Mroz. “Maybe they didn’t notice the mold under the sink, smell the sewer backing up in the cellar, hear the mice in the walls eating the wiring, see the dirty toilet or note the roof deteriorating.” The sad reality, he observes, is that many seniors can’t afford home repairs, or else they fear tapping their savings to pay the bill. “There’s a tendency for your home to decline as you age in it,” he observes.
Apart from the costs of future repairs, seniors determined to age in place will likely need to make some modifications to accommodate their aging bodies and declining eyesight. “Everyone knows about installing shower grab bars and entrance ramps and eliminating slip and fall hazards,” Mroz writes. “But less obvious things include installing lever-style doorknobs and more and brighter lighting.” Those upgrades can be costly. We found this Aging in Place Remodeling Checklist on the website of the National Association of Home Builders. Take a glance and you’ll see just how much work and expense you might be in for.
Potential Disadvantage Number Three: The Dependent Partner
“If you are aging in place as a couple, you may depend on one of you to be more competent in a given area,” says the article. “One person may be good with repairs and cooking, the other with financial and medical issues. But when one half of an aging couple dies or declines significantly, the affairs they handled must be able to be picked up by the remaining partner.”
Many of us may have experienced this with our own aging parents. Aging in place may be a great idea when both partners are healthy and able to handle all the responsibilities of home ownership, but that situation shifts rapidly when “half of the team” faces even mild impairment. If you plan to age in place, says Mroz, “you need a plan in place to backfill for the missing person’s competence.”
Potential Disadvantage Number Four: The Demands of Being a Caregiver
Based on 2020 statistics, 53 million Americans are caring for an adult with health or functional needs, according to AARP. “Medical issues tend to increase as we age,” says the NextAvenue article. So, at some point, you might need to become your partner’s caregiver. When that happens, the joy of living independently in your own home becomes an unsustainable burden.
The job of caregiving is often described as overwhelming and all-consuming. “You can get instruction and coaching on how to perform tasks from your medical providers,” says Mroz, “but you have to be willing to do them.” Yet if you and your partner have already made the move to a senior living facility, especially one offering a continuity of care, the help you need could be right there at your doorstep.
Potential Disadvantage Number Five: Cognitive Decline
Almost every senior will experience at least some cognitive decline as they age. For many this process is gradual and manageable. For others, the affects can be debilitating, even dangerous, especially for someone living alone. For them, writes Mroz, “this kind of decline could become dangerous or unhealthy. You might not remember to take your meds or eat well. You might ignore problems with wiring or the gas line.” Again, this is an aspect of aging in place that seniors can’t safely ignore.
Potential Disadvantage Number Six: Increasing Fire Danger
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 65-year-olds are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fires compared with the general population. “Older people are more likely than younger ones to forget to maintain (or replace) their fire, smoke and CO2 detectors,” says NextAvenue. Also, “because older people get colder more easily, they are big users of portable heaters, which have well-known fire hazards.” Then, too, some seniors living alone – some studies say as many as one in ten – are hoarders whose houses are so packed with unneeded stuff that their living conditions are unsafe.
Still Want to Age in Place? Consider Qualified In-Home Care
In his NextAvenue article, writer Mroz says those in their 60s need to make an honest assessment of the probability that they’ll relocate in the next five years. Depending on health and family history, if you or your partner will likely need assistance in that five-year period, you might want to speed up your plans and start exploring housing options sooner, not later.
At least you need to consider modifying your home to age in place. It may also be wise to start looking into availability and cost of in-home assistance in your area. We at AgingOptions can refer you to trusted agencies who can provide the expertise you need to develop a comprehensive care plan. What’s more, we suggest doing your homework well before the need arises.
We would also emphasize something Mroz overlooks, and that’s the need to sit down with your adult kids and talk things through with them. Like it or not, at some point they are almost certainly going to become involved in your care. Have that family meeting soon, while you’re in relatively good health.
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(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)