Aging in Place—
Safely and Independently
THE FAMILY CONVERSATION #2
CREATING AN AGING-IN-PLACE PLAN
Like seniors nationwide, most Long Islanders say they want to “age in place,” living in their current home as long as possible, aging with grace and dignity.
But the ability to remain in one’s own home and community—safely, comfortably, and independently—will likely change over time, as people move from their 60s into their 70s, 80s and even their 90s. For some, it may involve eventually relocating to a home where changing needs can be better accommodated.
A critical part of aging in place is the ability to age in community: Having opportunities to continue engaging in local recreational, learning, cultural, volunteering, and social experiences. As circumstances change, there also should be options for in-home health care and assistance with activities of daily life, including reliable transportation alternatives.
Ultimately, successful aging in place is best achieved with deliberate planning that includes both older family members and their caregivers, as well as professional experts.
Here are some useful resources to get started:
WHAT'S YOUR LOVED ONE'S 'RETIREMENTALITY'?
How and where your parents decide to spend their later years is their choice, of course, but it’s important to be aware of their plans, especially since these decisions may have a major impact on their future care-giving issues—and yours. Inevitably, housing choices reflect a set of goals relating to family and friends, travel, personal interests, work, and leisure activities.
ASSESSING HOUSING COSTS
When considering their housing future, it’s important that your loved ones be realistic about their financial situation. Have they talked to a financial adviser about budgeting in their retirement years?
ASSESSING HEALTH NEEDS
Your loved ones also should conduct a realistic assessment of their health, and how potential issues could affect them as they age in place. Parents, accompanied by their adult children, should consult health-care professionals to check their overall health, eyesight, hearing, gait and medications.
EVALUATING THE HOME FOR ‘LIVABILITY’
As homeowners get older, physical activities such as climbing stairs, bathing or doing household chores or routines, may become more challenging. People may not realize that as they age their home may no longer meet their needs.
But there are ways to modify existing homes to meet the needs of older residents, increasing comfort, helping to prevent accidents, and maintaining their independence. Many experts recommend assessing the future “livability” of a home by checking whether it measures up to the standards of “universal design.” Widely recognized by architects and builders, the universal design approach focuses on making houses flexible and adaptable for people of all ages, including a wide range of physical abilities or disabilities. For example, designing wider hallways and entrances can help accommodate both residents who are wheelchair-users as well as parents pushing baby strollers.
Modifications to the home—even small ones—can be a key factor to increasing the chances of older people staying independent and active in their community for as long as they desire.
In addition to assessing your loved ones’ home for livability, caregivers should review the household for overall safety—especially if a parent lives alone. Take at least one day each year to perform a thorough safety check.
GUIDE TO FALL PREVENTION
Falls are a particularly dangerous hazard for older adults—but they are not an inevitable part of getting older. In fact, families can significantly lower the chances of falling by making homes. Any fall-prevention action plan should include several elements:
- Consulting with health professionals about a risk assessment for falls
- Making sure the home environment is supportive and free of hazards
- Reviewing the care recipient’s medications periodically and making sure vision and hearing checks are conducted annually
- Engaging older loved ones in a physical activity program with balance, strength training, and flexibility components
Falls prevention is a team effort—with caregivers as key players. Caregivers should confer with their parents and other family members, the primary doctor, and any appropriate health, geriatric, or home design professionals. Enlist their help and work together to take steps in reducing the risk of falls.
There are also many local fitness programs designed to help seniors improve balance and avoid falls, offered at senior centers, private fitness clubs, Y’s, JCC’s, yoga centers and other locations.
In Nassau County, “Stepping On,” a well-known, licensed fall-prevention program for seniors, is offered through the North Shore/LIJ Health System. For information, visit www.northshorelij.com, click on Support and resources, then Accessibility & social services.
In Suffolk, the county health department’s Division of Preventive Medicine has developed several senior citizen falls prevention programs, including a 7-week “Stepping On” program, a two-hour “Staying Independent for Life” workshop, and a Tai Chi program. Visit www.suffolkcountyny.gov/departments/healthservices, then click Preventive Medicine.
MAINTAINING SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT
As your parents and other family members age in place, it’s important for them to remain socially active and engaged. Studies have shown that friendships and socialization are vital for the health and well-being of people, young and old. And conversely, older adults who are socially isolated are often at increased risk of physical and cognitive decline.
Research suggests that remaining socially engaged improves the quality of life for older adults and is associated with better health. In addition, older adults who are socially engaged in their communities are able to share their knowledge, talent, skills, experience and wisdom, enabling them to have a powerful impact.
Currently, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging—an association of the 622 Area Agencies on Aging, known as n4a—is promoting a social engagement initiative called engAGED: The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults (www.n4a.org/engaged). Funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging, the center, along with several partners, aims to disseminate information about emerging trends and resources, as well as develop a strategy for informing the network of aging agencies about innovative approaches and programming.
On Long Island, many older adults have their own approaches to remain socially engaged, involved with friends, hobbies, travel, library activities, volunteer work, clubs, houses of worship, community and civic organizations. Still, adult children should continue to encourage social interaction—and be aware of potential barriers to socialization, such as lack of adequate transportation.
There are also numerous opportunities for seniors to participate in educational programs at Long Island colleges, universities and nonprofit groups. Some examples:
Also, there are many social and recreational programs activities sponsored by local government agencies: