Want to spend your senior years at home? Here’s how to do it

July 16, 2020

Don’t let anyone tell you that moving to a retirement home is mandatory.

For 30 Years, Pat Weis has called the Bay Indies community in Venice, Florida, home. It’s where she lived with her husband until his death three years ago and where she currently resides with a friend. Now 80, Weis has no plans to leave her house anytime soon.

“I’ve been here 30 years and enjoyed every bit of it,” Weis says. “I’ve had no second thoughts [about staying].”

Weis is among the seniors who are “aging in place” or who are “active aging,” as David Inns, CEO of senior living solutions provider GreatCall, prefers to say. “We don’t like to use the term ‘aging in place.’” He worries it gives the impression of seniors passively living out their days on the couch.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, head of care for in-home services provider Honor, argues there is no reason even seniors who need extensive care can’t stay in their house. “People fundamentally want to remain in their homes,” she says, “and we figure out how to do that with joy, comfort and grace.”

Here are three keys to staying in your home and actively aging:

1. Create a safe environment in your house. Seniors who want to remain in their homes as they get older may find they need to make adjustments to their current living arrangements. While some people choose to renovate their house to make it more accessible, Ellis-Lamkins says small changes can be just as useful. She recommends seniors and their families consider the following:

• Remove tripping hazards like throw rugs.
• Adjust toilet seats to be higher.
• Install grab bars in the bathroom.
• Relocate the bedroom to the main level of a house.
• Move a mailbox from the curb to the door, if possible.
• Switch to smaller, more easily maneuverable trash bins.

Ellis-Lamkins adds that some of the biggest hazards may be easily overlooked. “The reason people often fall is because of shoes and toenails,” she says. Selecting shoes that fit well with adequate traction and keeping toenails clipped so they don’t snag on rugs are simple ways to prevent falls and keep seniors safe at home.

2. Be realistic and open about needed services. At a certain point, seniors may find they need extra help with daily living tasks or maintaining their home. That’s when the vast number of senior service providers can come in handy.

“Part of what we do in people’s homes is an assessment to determine their needs,” Ellis-Lamkins says. Depending on the results of that assessment, arrangements may be made for meal delivery, transportation, in-home care or other services.

At a certain point, seniors may find they need extra help with daily living tasks or maintaining their home. That’s when the vast number of senior service providers can come in handy.

“Part of what we do in people’s homes is an assessment to determine their needs,” Ellis-Lamkins says. Depending on the results of that assessment, arrangements may be made for meal delivery, transportation, in-home care or other services.

Getting family members on board with the idea of a senior staying in their current home can be a challenge sometimes. However, services are available for that as well. Everything from mobile devices to sensors can be used to not only improve the quality of life for seniors but also provide peace of mind to caregivers, Inns says.

“Technology is really something underleveraged,” Inns says. While some families may overlook their potential, today’s apps, phones and other devices can be used to monitor a senior’s vital signs, detect falls and track movement and meals.

3. Stay active and engaged. Although improving home safety and using available services is important, Weis says her advice to seniors hoping to stay in their homes is to remain active. “The most important thing is to stay positive, to join in and do things,” she says.

At her community, Weis has plenty of friends and activity options. That’s one reason she declined her daughter’s suggestion to move north. “Going to another place where you don’t know anyone?” she says of her response to the idea.

Seniors who don’t live in a community where activities are arranged may find the same engagement by volunteering for a favorite nonprofit organization, joining senior groups or becoming involved at a place of worship. Homebound seniors can use companionship services, like those arranged by Honor, or technology to connect with family members or play games designed to improve mental focus.

GreatCall offers wearable devices that encourage seniors to stay active and engaged by issuing daily challenges. At the same time, family members and caregivers can check in on their loved one’s activity at any time. “They can see that mom has been exercising or that she made it to her doctor appointment,” Inns says.

There’s no place like home if it meets your needs

By making minor changes to a home, utilizing available resources and maintaining social connections, experts say there is no reason seniors can’t stay in their homes as they get older.

“It’s transformative for people to own the aging process,” Ellis-Lamkins says, and living in their own house is one way many people are doing just that.

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