What Is Aging in Place?
For most seniors, the thought of moving into a nursing home causes great anxiety. Often, people make premature decisions regarding institutionalization because they are not fully aware of the technology or support services available to help them remain at home for a longer period of time.
This issue is gaining national prominence as the notion of aging in place – growing older without having to change residences to secure necessary services – takes hold. According to a recent AARP poll, nearly 90 percent of seniors older than 60 want to “live out their lives in familiar surroundings.”
There are a number of social initiatives and technologies available to help you age in place. Some examples follow, but a professional evaluation is important to identify the right combination of services and technology for you.
In the elderly population, poor balance often leads to falls. Of those who fall, 20 to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard to get around or live alone. Those who have a tendency to fall risk losing functional independence, developing depression and becoming socially isolated.
People fall because of environmental factors and physical problems, such as balance issues, vision impairments, weakness and cognitive and behavioral issues. Your doctor can prescribe tests to assess your balance and identify and treat many common balance disorders.
Home Safety Evaluation
Environmental factors that can lead to falls include tripping hazards, furniture placement and limitations in physical spaces (bathroom, doorway width, etc.). A home safety evaluation, prescribed by your doctor and performed by a Certified Occupational Therapist, can lead to recommendations of equipment and technology to improve access and safety in the home. These recommendations need not be expensive, and may include eliminating throw rugs and installing nightlights and bathtub grab-bars.
A modification to your home may allow you to remain independent. Stair glides help those who no longer climb stairs reach the upper and lower levels of their home, ramps allow for ease of entry, especially for those in wheelchairs, and other structural modifications, such as widened doorways and lowered kitchen cabinets, sinks and counters, can increase accessibility and quality of life.
Assistive technologies range from low-tech devices to more complex electronics. Simple solutions include grabbers to reach objects on high shelves, easy-to-grip kitchen utensils, long shoehorns, shower seats, tub benches and raised toilet seats. Complex electronic devices include voice- or switch-activated environmental control systems, which operate appliances, lights or televisions.
Personal Emergency Response Systems
At the touch of a button worn on the wrist or around the neck, a personal emergency response system puts you in direct contact with an operator at a central station who can summon medical assistance. The devices are waterproof and can be worn in the tub or shower, two areas where falls often occur.
Motion Sensor Systems
These motion sensor monitors learn and document your routine and alert family members or caregivers if something seems amiss in your home. The devices are not cameras, they simply measure how often you take your medication or open the refrigerator door, and monitor if you get out of bed or fail to exit the bathroom after entering. Temperature extremes, hot or cold, also trigger an alert. It’s like you’re never alone, even when you’re by yourself.
Non-Skilled and Contracted Services
Sometimes, a little help around the house can keep you independent. Non-skilled services range from light housekeeping, laundry, cleaning, or transportation to the grocery store or doctor appointments, to 24-hour companionship. These services are typically contracted on an hourly basis and can include providers of home repair, security services and landscaping/snow removal. Availability of reasonable, reliable services can keep you from making a premature decision to give up your home because of minor problems.
For more complex needs, based on medical necessity and a doctor’s recommendation, skilled services, such as nursing, physical, occupational or speech therapy, or social work services, may be appropriate. These services are generally performed for a limited time.
Care coordination includes case managers, social workers, or geriatric care managers. Their role is to complete an assessment of social supports, identify needed services, coordinate a plan of action to keep you in your home and provide ongoing follow-up.
Putting It All Together
Aging in place is a concept that is growing in popularity because of the desire for people to remain in their own home. As we have seen, there are a number of community services and technologies available to address this desire.
Consultation with a medical professional may help determine your physical or psychological circumstances, which allows for a more focused exploration of the resources available to keep you in your home longer. What is right for you depends upon your personal circumstances including finances, health status and support within the community.