As the busy pace of life slows with advancing age, important decisions remain about where seniors will live out their golden years.
According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of adults age 65 and up prefer to “age in place,” which refers to staying in their own homes; however, many factors determine if it’s the best fit for each individual. With preparation and the right information, adult children can help senior parents make the best decision for their unique needs.
Aging in place, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the ability to live in one’s own home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.
The primary benefit of aging in place is familiarity and being home near family and friends, explains Eileen Bradshaw, president and CEO of LIFE Senior Services.
“There’s not only comfort in your own home, surrounded by your photos and furnishings, but there’s also utility,” Bradshaw says. “You know how it works and how to navigate it safely. Peace and sentiment are attached to the home. The senior may have neighbors or a community of neighbors who look after them. There are familiar grocery stores, the pharmacist; all these things weave together to provide a support system as we age.”
Seniors and their family caregivers also should consider long-term effects of staying at home as health conditions change, how it relates to the home-based setting and care-specific needs, advises Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma state director.
“Seniors who choose to stay at home have the advantage of cost savings over care in nursing or assisted living settings,” Voskuhl says. “However, the need for services such as home health care present a cost impact that should be considered. Some individuals plan early and are positioned to purchase insurance policies that cover home-care benefits, as well as long-term care services that may be needed later.”
Voskuhl points to the Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, that states, on average in the U.S., a private room in a nursing home costs $8,365 per month, or $275 a day. In Oklahoma, a private room in a nursing home costs $5,293 a month, on average.
He adds that this is compared to the average cost of a home health aide for 30 hours a week — $32,760 annually — or adult day services — $15,600 annually. “By pairing paid help with unpaid family caregivers, individuals can save money and remain in the home longer,” Voskuhl says.
Sometimes minor, or even major, home renovations can help seniors age in place successfully. With assistance from a certified aging-in-place specialist through the National Association of Home Builders, seniors’ homes can be modified to fit their specific needs, the cost of which varies greatly depending on the changes required.
Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist Barry Helms, president of Renovations by Helms, says some typical projects — such as widening doorways; installing ramps; adjusting counter heights; or adding non-slip flooring, improved lighting or Americans with Disabilities-compliant hardware — can make movement around the home easier. For wheelchair use, hardwood, tile, laminate or vinyl flooring are optimal choices.
Helms says his company modifies and remodels bathrooms with ADA comfort-height commodes, grab bars, barrier-free curbless showers, bathtub transfer benches, and the very popular walk-in tubs.
For seniors requiring routine medical care, home health or in-home care services can assist in daily living activities, including grooming, personal care or medication delivery, Voskuhl says. Some services provide light housekeeping and meal preparation.
Next there are the considerations of maintaining a sense of community. Senior centers are a great way for seniors to stay active and connected.
“One thing this pandemic has driven home is we all need connection,” Bradshaw says. “We (LIFE Senior Services) have senior centers for active seniors, and we have folks that drive themselves and others who get dropped off. They may play cards, do line dancing, tai chi or play pickleball. We even have drumming and an improv group. There are many activities to choose from each day. Or, if they prefer, they can just visit with friends in the lounge area.”
Many of the senior citizen centers and community centers offer transportation options, in addition to public and private transportation options in Tulsa, Voskuhl adds. “INCOG serves as the metropolitan planning organization for the Tulsa area and offers a comprehensive list of ride-share services on its Transportation Resource Center website,” he says.
Making the move
When the time comes that a senior community or care facility is necessary, Voskuhl says family members should meet and evaluate what is best for their loved one, accounting for the level of care and help needed. This can include a professional assessment.
Level of care in senior communities can vary greatly, from independent-living apartments to 24-hour skilled medical and memory care.
“Crowd-source opinions from friends and neighbors that may have family members in senior living communities, nursing homes or assisted living centers,” Voskuhl says. “Check with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.”
Once a facility is under consideration, visit the facility if possible. “However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visitation to facilities may not be available,” Voskuhl cautions. “In fact, many residents and loved ones have been unable to see each other in-person as efforts to prevent the spread continue to be implemented.”
Ultimately, preparation is the key to making such a major decision.
“Talk about it early — years before, if possible,” Bradshaw says. “Socialize the topic before you’re at a crisis point. What does your parent think would be a nice way to age? Are they committed to staying in the home? Have the conversation early of what happy aging looks like.”