Throughout the generations, it’s a question many older adults have asked themselves: Should I stay in my longtime home or should I choose another place in which to age?

Research reveals that most seniors do want to age at home. Ninety-four percent would like to continue to live in their own home, according to a survey of North American homeowners between the ages of 55 and 75 conducted by Home Instead®, Inc. conducted before the coronavirus. But only 28 percent have made a definite plan for where they will live as they age, according to the research.

When asked how they would feel if at some point they were no longer able to live in their home and didn’t want to leave, just over half (54 percent) of survey respondents said they would be heartbroken. However, that no longer necessarily means aging in their current home. In fact, one in four seniors plans to find a new home where they can age in place, the research revealed.

Planning is key, and everyone should feel empowered to create a plan of action that helps them realize their dreams and feel safe from health threats like pandemics. After all, we all want to remain in the driver’s seat as we grow older.

First, let’s better understand the challenges that come with aging and how those challenges can impact living at home.

The Risks: Mobility, Balance, Senses and Memory

  • Agility and mobility. Conditions such as arthritis can impair mobility. Stairs that were once easy to navigate with groceries and toddlers may now present a formidable challenge. Many stairways only allow for one handrail. A slip becomes all too easy.
  • Balance. Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and other chronic conditions increase the risk for balance problems as well as falls on slippery floors and getting in and out of the bathtub.
  • Eyesight. According to several studies, a 60-year-old needs at least three times more ambient light to see than a 20-year-old. Poor eyesight may lead to problems in the bathroom (with personal grooming and medication management) and in the bedroom (leading to tripping hazards).
  • Memory. It’s estimated that at least half of adults over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The effects of memory loss might make it difficult for an older adult to stay on a medication plan, remember to turn off stove burners or pay bills on time.

As a result of common aging issues and the current guidance for seniors to remain socially distanced from others, many families will be faced with the question: Should I stay or should I go? It’s a question potentially so easy to avoid. Facing aging issues does not mean that a move from home is on the horizon, though.

Candid Conversations with Older Adults

According to the Home Instead research, 66 percent of seniors believe their home is where they will be most comfortable physically and emotionally, and 53 percent believe they will stay healthier in their own home. Interestingly, 12 percent say nothing – such as mobility, cognitive or medical problems – could make them decide they cannot live in their own home as they age.

Candid conversations are the first step in answering the question of whether to stay or go. “Boomers will see their mom and dad struggle, and the situation brings to light that the home is not always a friendly place to age,” explained Dan Bawden, who founded the national Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) program for the National Association of Home Builders in 2001. The program trains contractors, occupational therapists, physical therapists and other medical providers how to remodel homes for older adults.

That means that candid conversations can begin from two vantage points, Bawden added. “Adult children may say, ‘We need to talk about this.’  They see the need coming. Or the parents may start the conversation. It really is who thinks of it first. The best way to start is making the need for home modifications about somebody else,” Bawden explained.

“For example, ‘A friend from church is having similar problems at home.  Let me tell you what happened to her. The family didn’t have a plan to install any safety features. The wife slipped in the tub and broke her hip.  She really regretted not putting in grab rails sooner.  It was an expensive mistake.  I was thinking we should do some of these things in our home to prevent an accident like that from happening. Let’s check out affordable ways we could make your house safer, Dad.’ I use this ‘making it about others’ technique with my Boomer clients who are interested in remodeling their homes. Storytelling with examples is a great way to start the conversation.”

Making Home Safer Conversation Starters

For Adult Children

“I know this big house is becoming more of a challenge for you, Mom. Why don’t we sit down and figure out a plan that makes it easier for you to maintain this house and stay home?”

“Mom, I wanted to show you this great article about all the gadgets that are available to help us in our homes. I’d like to try one out. Will you help too?”

“Mom, I just heard that Angie slipped on the stairs at her house and broke her hip. I sure wouldn’t want that to happen to you. I’ve heard about some great railings we could have installed on your wall by the stairs. Can I look into that for you?”

For Older Adults

“I think there are some ways I can keep living here that will make you comfortable with the situation. Let’s work on that, OK?”

“Susan, I like living here and it’s very important to me to stay independent. Nevertheless, I have been having problems with two things: paying my bills and keeping my medications straight. Will you help me figure this out?”

“You know, son, I want to stay at home for as long as possible. I think these quick and affordable fixes can help make your house safer.”

“Grandson Ted is so good around the house. I know he’s busy with school, but could he stop by for about an hour next week and help me replace the lightbulbs that are too high for me to reach? I’d love to catch up with what’s going on in his life as well. I’ll make his favorite cookies!”

 “It seems like the doctor’s office adds a new medication every time I visit. I want to make sure I keep these all straight. I know there are some great medication management tools out there. Can you or someone else in the family help me find one that would work for me?”

It’s important to include others in the conversations as well, noted Expert Meaghan Walls, President and CEO of Assistology, Removing Barriers Through Innovative AT Solutions. “Caregivers, home health aides, therapists, medical professionals and assistive technology specialists all offer input and help identify the best options in home medication needs, medical equipment and assistive technology.” For more information, check out MassMATCH.

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