Aging in Place: 4 Must-dos for Health and Safety
Weekly Wealth Staff
Jul 28, 2022
In 2011, the first wave of baby boomers celebrated their 65th birthday. Now, ten years later, approximately 55 million people in the U.S. are 65 years or older, and by 2030 there will be 74 million people in that age group. The average 65-year-old today can expect to live for 19 more years , on average (1).
This population’s continued growth, combined with longer life expectancies, poses certain important questions and challenges – particularly for people with aging loved ones. Chief among those concerns are healthcare and living arrangements. Deciding where to live out the “Golden Years” is no small matter, and as it turns out most older adults have resolute opinions on the subject.
Despite the apparent changes that come with aging, most older adults do not want to make any living arrangement changes at all. A study conducted by AARP revealed 90% of people aged 65 or older prefer staying put and aging in their homes over moving to a skilled nursing facility or other assisted living facility (2). This preference, broadly described as “aging in place,” is often tied to certain factors, including:
- Keeping a sense of independence
- Familiarity and memories attached to the home
- Negative perceptions of health and safety concerns in nursing homes
- Cost savings associated with staying put
While older adults clearly value living at home, living arrangement planning must account for the challenges of aging. Healthy aging in place requires careful planning. Here are some steps you or your loved one can take to ensure you are prepared to safely, healthfully age in place – now or in the future.
Keep Up with Preventive Care
Chronic disease incidence increases with age. An estimated 85% of older adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease , and 60% have two or more (3).
Ongoing attention to health can help improve the likelihood that you or your loved one can detect illness early and, ultimately, remain independent for longer. Key clinical preventive services to help promote healthy aging include:
- Screenings for chronic conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure
- Immunizations, specifically for diseases like influenza and pneumonia
- Health counseling to help address personal behaviors that can contribute to disease, including nutrition, lack of physical activity, and smoking
Preventive services are critical for lowering the risk for disease and disability. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show only 40% of adults aged 65 years and older are up to date on the full set of core preventive care services (1).
Make Sure You Are Financially Stable
It is never too early to begin planning and organizing finances for the future – and the steps you take now can pay major dividends for your overall health. If you have a loved one approaching retirement age now, proactively addressing their financial situation can limit unexpected money-related challenges.
Dealing with financial stress can have adverse effects on health and well-being. Specifically, research has shown older people managing varying degrees of financial stress self-report lower rates of health, quality of life, and life satisfaction (4).
According to the Federal Reserve, common sources of financial stress .) in older adults include (5):
- Lost job or reduced income and work hours
- Health-related expenses
- Unpaid taxes
- A separation, divorce, or death of a spouse
Taking care of your financial health now can set you up to age in place comfortably. Steps you should take to be ready for your retirement include (6):
- Decide whether or how much you will need to work
- Take stock of your assets and your debts
- Determine when you will collect Social Security
- Get aggressive about bulking up your savings
Older adults having difficulty managing or understanding their finances should enlist a trusted family member or friend to help organize. In the absence of a trusted family member or friend, the National Institute on Aging recommends contacting your local Area Agency on Aging to connect you with someone vetted to help (7).
Be Prepared to Modify Your Home
Safely aging in place will likely require modifications for your home. These modifications will be necessary to help make sure your home continues to meet your living needs – which grow continually more complicated with age. Chief among aging-related challenges that must be addressed in the home is the increased risk for falls. Falls are a critical threat to older adults’ health – the resulting injuries can reduce an ability to remain independent or, in the worst cases, cause death (8).
Home modifications are becoming increasingly more common as the population of older adults continues to grow. The National Association of Home Builders reports that 80% of home remodeling companies make aging in place-specific home improvements – up from 68% in 2013. Common home modifications that help support healthy aging in place include (9):
- Installing grab bars in high-risk areas – most notably the bathroom
- Adding outdoor ramps, which allows older adults with balance issues avoid having to use stairs to get inside the home
- Integrating smart home technology, including medical alert systems, home security and remote monitoring or communication systems
- Updating the flooring with anti-slip materials throughout the home, but particularly in the bathroom where the risk for falls is highest
Take Steps to Manage Medications Effectively
With high rates of chronic disease, careful medication management habits are critical for older adults.
Taking several medications, often with different instructions, introduces the risk for polypharmacy – the concurrent use of several drugs and associated risk for adverse drug-related events. In general, polypharmacy and inappropriate medication are of particular concern for older adults due to comorbidities, having multiple prescribers, and the comparably small amount of training doctors have in geriatric medicine. Approximately 8% of older adults have experienced the effects of polypharmacy (10).
It is important to keep medications straight to ensure you or your loved one are not missing doses or taking too much of a particular medication. The doctor should perform regular medication reviews to ensure none of the prescriptions have dangerous interactions. You or your loved one can also ask the doctor to put the medication schedule and instructions in writing so the information is easily accessible.
There are also a few personal organization options to help people ensure they are staying on track with their medications. There are devices on the market you can purchase and program to send medication alerts for dosing and other information. You or your loved one can also buy special pillboxes and organizers with daily labels that can hold a week’s worth of medications pre-sorted by day.
Takeaway: Healthy Aging in Place Takes Planning
Continuing to live in the home is perfectly possible – but taking steps to promote healthy living and safety is vital. Successful aging in place can be progressive - it is all about making adaptations to the existing home and lifestyle as you or your loved one continue to age.
- 1 - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. Healthy Aging in Action. Published November 2016.
- 2 - AARP. Can You Afford to Age in Place? Published February 14, 2017.
- 3 - National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Supporting Older Patients with Chronic Conditions. Last reviewed May 17, 2017.
- 4 - Huang R, et al. Effect of financial stress on self-rereported health and quality of life among older adults in five developing countries: a cross sectional analysis of WHO-SAGE survey. BMC Geriatr. 2020 Aug 12;20(1):288.
- 5 - Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Insights into the Financial Experiences of Older Adults: A Forum Briefing Paper. Published July 30, 2013.
- 6 - AARP. 10 Steps to Get You Ready for Retirement. Last reviewed June 2012.
- 7 - National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home. Last reviewed May 1, 2017.
- 8 - U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older Adult Fall Prevention. October 9, 2020.
- 9 - Trout, J. These 8 DIY projects will make your parents’ home safer as they age. Consumer Affairs. Last reviewed August 15, 2019.
- 10 - Morin L, Johnell K, et al. The epidemiology of polypharmacy in older adults: register-based prospective cohort study. Clin Epidemiol. 2018;10:289-298.
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