Your Guide to Aging in Place
Have your parents let you know that they want to stay in their own home, no matter what? That wouldn't be surprising. According to AARP, 87% of adults over the age of 65 want to stay in their current home and community as they age.
This can be difficult as an adult child because you want to make sure that your parent is safe at home. You might worry that your parent won’t be able to afford to live at home. Many adult children fear that their aging parent will be at high risk for loneliness and isolation. Other frequent concerns are falls and not being able to drive as they age.
Aging in place can be successful with proper preparation and planning. Recent events may also have you thinking about whether staying in their own home is safer for your parent.
10 Strategies to Help Your Parents Age in Their Own Home
Today’s Geriatric Medicine reports that to help your parents age in place safely, you'll need these 10 strategies:
1. Learn how to talk to your parent about aging in place.
It is never too early to have this often difficult conversation with your parents! Start talking to them as soon as possible about planning for care as they age in place. Together you can put a plan in place that makes sure that your parent is safe at home.
Ask your parents about what is important to them. Listen carefully to the answers. Your parent needs to feel heard and that their wishes have value. They may state they want their privacy respected, or that they feel worried about keeping up with the outside maintenance of their home. The laundry may be overwhelming them, or they may hate the thought of eating alone every day. Your parent might let you know that they don’t feel safe driving, or you may even see signs that your parent shouldn’t be driving.
Knowing what your parent worries about and what they want will help you plan for their care. Together you can then make up a plan to address your parents safety and independence at the same time.
2. Address safety concerns for aging in place
You will want to look at these three basic safety needs for your parent when they are aging in place. Older adults are most at risk of falling, burning themselves, or poisoning.
Part of your discussion with your parent will be how to adapt the home to prevent these risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that people over the age of 65 are at high risk for falls. Falls are the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for seniors in the United States.
There are simple and effective ways to prevent falls. Decide with your parents which steps you will take first.
Review with your parent fire safety and make sure that a phone is easy to access. Check that appliances, electric cords, and outlets are in good working condition. Install a smoke detector and check the batteries twice a year.
Poisonings are often related to carbon monoxide, improper medication use, and cleaning products. Tips for safety include:
Installing a carbon monoxide detector
Talking to your pharmacist about having medications labeled
Requesting medications blister packed to reduce the chance of confusion
Cleaning out the cleaning supplies and only keep a minimal amount of cleaning products on hand
3. Prepare for emergencies.
The events of 2020 have taught us that there are many unexpected turns in life. To successfully age at home, you and your parent need to have a plan in place for emergencies.
Emergencies can come in all shapes and sizes. Think about the area that your parent lives in and the likelihood of these types of emergencies:
Inability to access medical care
During an emergency, you will want to know that your parent’s basic needs are going to be met. Ask yourself the difficult “what if” questions.
What if Dad falls and can’t get to the phone?
What if Mom is unable to get in to see her doctor for a prescription renewal?
What if an earthquake prevents me from bringing in groceries?
Talk about these scenarios and what ideas you have to be able to deal with them.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that you put together a kit of emergency supplies that include:
Clean drinking water
3 days worth of non-perishable food
A flashlight and batteries
A first aid kit
Personal protective equipment such as a mask and gloves
Talk to your parent about where important documents are kept and how you will get in touch with them during an emergency.
4. Have a plan to accommodate changes to their daily routine
To help your parent age in place, you will need to look at their regular activities of daily living and how their abilities may change.
Activities of daily living include:
The ability to keep moving
Talk to your parents about options for meals. You might consider grocery delivery. You can have meals delivered through a program like Meals on Wheels, or you can hire an in-home caregiver to assist with meal preparation.
Often your parent’s home will need changes to make bathing, dressing, and mobility easier. These are renovations that should be done as soon as possible.
A bathroom is a dangerous place and the room where falls are most likely to occur! You can help keep your parent safe by:
Having handrails professionally installed
Making sure that your parent has non-skid bath mats
Using a shower chair with a handheld shower-head
Installing a raised toilet seat or frame
Also look at universal design principles! By making some home design changes, you can improve your parent’s quality of life and level of independence. Re-modeling their home can make it easier to bathe, dress, and move around the house.
5. Meet the need for companionship
If your parent is living alone they are at risk for loneliness and the health consequences that follow. Senior loneliness and isolation can often cause:
Lower brain function
Talk to your parent about a plan to make sure that they stay connected with others. Arrange to see them on a regular basis. If you are long distance caregiving for your parent or unable to visit, then set up regular phone or Skype conversations. An in-home caregiver can help your parent utilize technology to help them stay connected.
You might need to enlist the help of family members, friends, and community members. Ask them to stop in and visit with your parent on a regular basis.
Companionship is necessary for the relationship but also provides another safety measure. When you have somebody seeing your parent every day it is reassuring. If your parent is being visited every day, you know that they haven’t fallen or become sick.
6. Support your parent in staying active
Staying physically fit and mobile is your parent’s greatest strategy for aging in place. Regular exercise helps older adults maintain the strength of their bones, joints, and muscles.
Exercise can reduce the risk of falls and improves recovery time when ill or injured.
Physical activity also helps to:
Reduce memory problems
Prevent dementia and mental decline
Talk about ways that your parent enjoys being active. Help them to think outside of the box by suggesting at-home activities such as:
Online exercise classes
Youtube dance videos
Connecting with grandchildren via video chat for a game of Simon Says
Seniors may benefit from connecting with a professional home caregiver to set up a high-quality exercise plan they can do at home.
7. Know the Options for Care
It is vital to talk to your parents about what care options are available to age in place. In-home care does not need to be an all or nothing commitment.
The best approach when talking with your parent is to ask what they feel is their biggest concern. Many seniors will be comfortable with the idea of hiring a cleaner to come in for housekeeping once a week or having meals delivered.
Discuss with your parent about talking to a reliable home care provider. The care provider can set up a client care manager who will discuss what care options are available.
Professional care services can assist with:
Companionship and care
8. Talk about what it will cost to age at home
Many people assume that aging at home will be less expensive than moving into a facility. Depending on your parent’s needs this may or may not be true. Talk to a trusted home care provider about what costs you can anticipate now. This could include home renovations and safety modifications.
Next, take a realistic look at how long your parent could be living at home and how their care needs may change. Discuss the possibility of needing 24/7 care or hospice care. Make sure that you and your parent is aware of what this will cost.
Consider what financial resources are available such as pensions, social security, and personal investments.
9. Avoid scams
Seniors are often the targets of financial scams. These scams will often prey on a senior’s fears and insecurities. Talk to your parent about being aware of these types of scams:
Medicare/health insurance scams
False health claims
Funeral and cemetery scams
Telemarketing or phone scams
Homeowner and reverse mortgage scams
A loved one needing help scam
Remind your loved one to never give out personal information to a person who calls you or in response to an email. Talk about keeping information private such as:
Social Security number
Bank or credit card numbers
Your parent may also be worried about paying bills when they can’t get to a bank, or about filling out the vast amount of health forms. You can discuss getting help with these tasks. Your parent may want to ask a relative, a financial counselor, or a geriatric care manager to assist with these ongoing tasks.
10. Access your community support system
Successful aging at home involves setting up a support system. This can include family, friends, and neighbors, as well as local community and government resources. Home care programs can help to fill in the blanks in your support system.
Those around us are the biggest source of help. They are the people we can turn to in a crisis and the ones who you can call when you need a hand. Aging at home does not need to be done in isolation.
4 Benefits of Aging in Place
Home is often where we feel the safest and most comfortable. Many seniors who are able to stay in their homes maintain a higher sense of independence and better overall health. The benefits of aging in place include the following:
Independence can prevent decline.
Seniors who live at home have more of a say in their day to day activities. This responsibility and control can help keep their brain sharp. Making decisions and planning your day are important aspects of dignity.
Being at home is familiar.
In times of great upheaval, most of us have a longing for “home”. This desire to be in a place that we feel safe and comforted is important. This sense of belonging is a critical factor in a person’s quality of life.
Living at home can provide a healthier and safer environment.
Home can be set up to be a safe place. Recent experiences have shown us that residents at nursing homes are at a higher risk of infections. Remaining at home can limit the contact your parent has with bacterial and viral illnesses. Home care providers are trained and prepared to help keep your loved ones safe and comforted during a pandemic or viral outbreak.
Aging at home can save money.
When your parent remains in their home, you only need to pay for the care they need at the time. When living in an assisted living or nursing facility, you will have to pay a baseline amount each month. If your parent is healthy and independent, they may enjoy years of living at home with little outside care needed.
Aging in place can be successful for your parent! Your role is to prepare and know what the options are for care before there is an emergency.
Set up a plan now so you will spend less time at night worrying about your parent and continue to enjoy the relationship you have.